DURHAM, N.C. — Duke faced its first big test as a top-ranked team this season, and its three key seniors made sure the Blue Devils passed it.
Seth Curry scored 12 of his season-high 31 points during the late run that helped No. 1 Duke pull away for a 90-77 victory over pesky Santa Clara on Saturday.
Fellow senior Mason Plumlee added 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Blue Devils (12-0).
They needed a huge run late to overcome both a big game from Kevin Foster and a legitimate scare from the Broncos (11-3) and win a physical affair that coach Mike Krzyzewski compared to an ACC game in February.
“We’re going to keep playing teams where our game is their season,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s something that most people never, ever compete against, where you’re always competing against somebody’s best. . At Duke, a lot of teams have free money against us because the story is not us winning — the story is us losing, and that’s the way it’s been for 25 years.”
Foster scored 18 of his 29 points in the first half for upset-minded Santa Clara, and his soaring baseline dunk put the Broncos up 45-41 with 16:30 left.
But the Broncos managed just one field goal over the next 8:30, and that gave Duke just enough of an opening to break this one open.
“I thought we withstood the first 4 minutes (of the half) better than anticipated,” Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. “They made their charge, we knew it was going to come and we couldn’t stop it, and we had to fight back the rest of the way.”
Curry hit two 3-pointers, then converted three times near the rim during the 26-5 run that gave the Blue Devils a bit of breathing room. Quinn Cook’s steal and layup capped the burst and made it 67-50 with 8:30 to play.
Curry, who was 12 of 18 from the field with four 3s, finished with his best scoring day as Blue Devil but came up short of the 35 he scored against VMI while a freshman at Liberty in 2008-09.
“Our team did a great job of executing in the halfcourt,” Curry said. “Our big guys set great screens, and the few times we got in transition, Quinn kept his head up and found me for some open shots. I was able to score from behind the line and attacking the rim, so I was able to mix it up a little bit.”
Ryan Kelly — the team’s third scholarship senior — had 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Cook finished with 15 points for Duke.
Playing for the first time in nine days — and just the fifth time in December — Duke wasn’t anywhere near its best for much of this one.
The Blue Devils, whose previous two wins as the No. 1 team came by margins of 41 and 22 points, missed 10 of their first 18 free throws, had six shots blocked and were regularly outworked by the Broncos.
But they were good enough when it counted, shooting 51 percent in the second half and finishing with a 40-28 rebounding advantage to reach 12-0 for the 10th time under Krzyzewski and win their 101st straight nonconference game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“You keep getting in fights like this, and you get better,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re going to lose a few fights, but then at the end, hopefully you’re tough enough to win the big fight. My team has fought.”
Evan Roquemore added 17 points while Marc Trasolini and Raymond Cowels III had 10 apiece for Santa Clara, which was playing the No. 1 team for just the second time since 1981 and fell to 0-12 all-time against top-ranked opponents with its first loss in regulation this season.
Yet the Broncos gave Duke fits for about 24 minutes before going cold at the most inopportune time.
Foster, the nation’s top 3-point shooter in 2010-11, had 18 of his team’s first 30 points to single-handedly keep them in this one early, scoring 12 points during a 16-4 run that wiped out an 11-point deficit and put Santa Clara up 30-29.
“I hit a couple 3s, so of course, they were going to start denying me,” Foster said. “They made it hard to get catches. . At the same time, we still made plays and we fed off of that.”
No. 2 MICHIGAN 88, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 73
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Trey Burke had 22 points and 10 assists as Michigan finished its non-conference schedule with a victory over Central Michigan.
Michigan played without junior Tim Hardaway Jr. who missed the first game of his career with an ankle injury. That meant the Wolverines started three freshmen — Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert — along with Burke and Jordan Morgan.
Robinson had 20 points, while Stauskas finished with 19 for Michigan (13-0), which is off to the second-best start in school history. The 1985-86 Wolverines team, led by Gary Grant, Roy Tarpley and Glen Rice, started the season 16-0 on its way to a Big Ten championship.
Central Michigan (7-6) was hoping to match the success of its football team, which won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Wednesday, but never recovered from falling behind by seven points in the first three minutes.
No. 6 KANSAS 89, AMERICAN 57
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Travis Releford scored 19 points and Kansas hit a scorching 13 of its first 18 3-point attempts, rolling to a victory over American.
Kansas (11-1) took command with a 21-4 spree in the opening minutes and wound up with six players scoring at least nine points against the outmanned Eagles (4-9). Releford was 7 for 8 from the floor, including 5 of 6 3-pointers. Elijah Johnson had 12 points and was 4 for 5 from behind the arc as the Jayhawks finished with 15-for-24 3-point shooting.
Freshman Perry Ellis had 11 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double.
Stephen Lumpkins had 16 points and six rebounds for the Eagles.
No. 9 SYRACUSE 57, ALCORN STATE 36
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — C.J. Fair scored 13 points, Trevor Cooney added 12, all in the second half to key a late surge, and Syracuse beat Alcorn State in the final game of the Gotham Classic.
It was the 901st win for Orange coach Jim Boeheim, one behind Bob Knight for second place all-time among Division I men’s coaches. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski leads with 939 wins.
Syracuse (11-1), coming off an 83-79 loss to Temple at Madison Square Garden a week ago, increased its home winning streak to 31 games, longest in the nation. Alcorn State (2-13), which was late arriving because of the weather, dropped to 0-9 on the road in losing its ninth straight.
Marquiz Baker, who had averaged 25.7 in three games since returning from a knee injury that had sidelined him since November of 2011, finished with 15 points to lead the Braves.
No. 10 OHIO ST. 87
CHICAGO ST. 44
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Deshaun Thomas scored 17 points and Ohio State regained its shooting touch in its final tuneup before beginning Big Ten play.
LaQuinton Ross added 15 points, Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 13, Amedeo Della Valle had career-high 11 and Aaron Craft scored 10 for the Buckeyes (10-2), who complete an eight-game homestand when they host Nebraska in the conference opener on Wednesday.
The Buckeyes hit 33 of 58 shots from the field (57 percent).
Quinton Pippen, a nephew of ex-Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen, had 12 points for Chicago State (3-12), which fell to 0-11 away from home with its fourth straight defeat.
Tuckeyes opened the second half by making their first four attempts from the field. A 10-2 blitz at the outset of the second half swelled the lead to 47-26. The Cougars never got closer than 17 points again.
No. 12 ILLINOIS 81
CHICAGO — Tracy Abrams scored a career-high 27 points for Illinois.
The Illini (13-1) saw an 11-point lead shrink to one in the closing minutes but they prevailed after falling to Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game a week earlier — their first loss under coach John Groce.
Frankie Sullivan buried a 3 for Auburn (5-7) to make it 68-67 with 4:29 remaining. Illinois then hit 13 of 18 free throws the rest of the way for a rare win at the United Center, where they had dropped three straight and five of six after winning 18 in a row.
Abrams, a sophomore guard, was 6 of 11 from the field and 13 of 15 from the free throw line while eclipsing his previous high by five points.
Brandon Paul finished with 13 points for Illinois but was just 3 of 12 from the field and missed all five 3-point attempts.
Sullivan led Auburn with 21 points. Rob Chubb scored 13, and Allen Payne chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but the Tigers dropped their second straight.
No. 14 FLORIDA 78
AIR FORCE 61
SUNRISE, Fla. — Kenny Boynton snapped a shooting slump with three 3-pointers in the second half when Florida pulled away.
Boynton had made only 4 of 32 from 3-point range over the previous five games, but he hit three in a span of 8 minutes to break the game open. The Gators used their superior size and smothering defense to grind down the Falcons, who shot 48 percent in the first half and 33 percent in the second half.
Florida (9-2) won for only the second time in the past four games. Air Force (8-3) fell to 2-77 against ranked teams.
Boynton, who ranks third in career 3-pointers made at Florida with 282, went 3 for 7 from long range and scored 14 points.
Erik Murphy of Florida scored 21 points, had seven rebounds and added four assists while missing only two shots in 29 minutes. He was chosen the game’s MVP.
The Falcons matched the second-best start in school history in their first 10 games but hadn’t faced a team of Florida’s caliber. Air Force’s Michael Lyons was held to 11 points, nine below his average, and he shot only 3 for 14.
No. 16 CREIGHTON 87, EVANSVILLE 70
OMAHA, Neb. — Doug McDermott scored 14 of his 29 points in a 6½-minute stretch of the second half when Creighton pulled away from Evansville.
Gregory Echenique had 13 points and 13 rebounds, Jahenns Manigat added 13 points, and Avery Dingman had 11 for the Bluejays (12-1), who won their Missouri Valley Conference opener.
McDermott, the Bluejays’ returning All-American, also had 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
Colt Ryan, who scored an arena-record 43 points in his last visit, matched his season high with 25 for the Purple Aces (7-6, 0-1). Troy Taylor added 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for Evansville, which has lost 14 straight in Omaha since 1999.
Evansville cut a 17-point deficit to seven early in the second half. McDermott wasn’t much of a factor as he went scoreless during a span of 10:32 over the halves.
No. 18 BUTLER 68, VANDERBILT 49
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Rotnei Clarke hit six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points and the Butler Bulldogs shook off a sluggish start and routed Vanderbilt for their seventh straight victory.
The Bulldogs (10-2) missed their first seven 3-pointers and led only 25-22 at halftime before taking control of the game with a 14-3 run to open the second half.
Clarke, who missed his first six shots, had another memorable game in Memorial Gym. He scored 36 points in January 2011 playing for Arkansas, hitting 6-of-8 beyond the arc in that game.
This time around, the senior guard hit 6-of-9 from 3-point range before Butler coach Brad Stevens starting pulling his starters. Kellen Dunham added 12 points.
Kyle Fuller led Vanderbilt with 10 points. Kedren Johnson finished with nine, well below his average of 17.8 points and didn’t score until nearly three minutes into the second half.
NORTH CAROLINA 79
No. 20 UNLV 73
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — P.J. Hairston scored 15 points in his first career start for North Carolina.
Dexter Strickland added a season-high 16 points for the Tar Heels (10-3), who led by 15 points in the first half and by nine at the break. But UNC had to turn away a second-half surge by the Runnin’ Rebels (11-2) to earn the program’s 63rd straight home win against nonconference opponents.
Freshman Anthony Bennett had 15 points and 13 rebounds for UNLV, which led by a point briefly in the second half but spent most of the game in catch-up mode. Katin Reinhardt and Anthony Marshall each added 15 points for the Runnin’ Rebels, who also got Mike Moser back from an elbow injury after a four-game absence.
Hairston started in place of Reggie Bullock, who sat out with a mild concussion suffered in Thursday’s practice, and finished 5 for 10 from the field and hit two 3-pointers. He made two free throws with 28.5 seconds left after the Runnin’ Rebels had closed within 76-73.
No. 23 N. CAROLINA ST. 84
W. MICHIGAN 68
RALEIGH, N.C. — C.J. Leslie scored 19 points to lead North Carolina State.
Richard Howell added 18 points on 8-of-8 shooting for the Wolfpack (10-2), who won their sixth consecutive game.
N.C. State shot 55 percent from the field, padding its NCAA-leading field goal percentage.
T.J. Warren scored 15 points, Scott Wood had 11 and Lorenzo Brown added 10 for the Wolfpack.
Nate Hutcheson scored 16 points to lead the Broncos (8-5). Shayne Whittington added 14 points and Darius Paul had 12 for Western Michigan.