Duke opens post-Zion era with new 'hard-nosed' identity, beats KU

Duke edges Kansas in Champions Classic (2:08)

Tre Jones leads No. 4 Duke to a 68-66 win vs. No. 3 Kansas at Madison Square Garden. (2:08)

NEW YORK -- Turns out Duke basketball is still going to exist without Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett.

The No. 4 Blue Devils opened life in the post-Zion era with a 68-66 win over No. 3 Kansas in the Champions Classic, forcing 28 Kansas turnovers and putting four players in double figures.

"Coach told us first day, 'Big brother's not here. RJ and Zion are not here. We've gotta be an old-fashioned Duke team.' And this is what we are," Duke freshman Cassius Stanley said. "I think we found our identity."

And that new identity?

"Hard-nosed, rough, tough," Stanley said. "We might be ugly, but we're gonna get the W. We're going to be very, very, very aggressive."

That aggressiveness, especially on defense, was the difference on a night in which neither team was particularly efficient on the offensive end. Kansas turned it over 18 times in the first half, then shot just 41.9% after halftime. Duke shot 35.9% for the game but had 29 points off turnovers.

Both teams lost significant players from last season, and it showed early on with Duke starting three freshmen and Kansas using lineups it didn't experiment with a season ago.

After a sloppy first half, Kansas went on a 14-0 run early in the second half to take a nine-point lead, but Duke immediately responded with an 11-1 run. Kansas jumped out to a four-point lead, then Duke responded with an 8-0 run. A back-and-forth stretch ended up with the game tied at 59 with 3:26 remaining. Last season, the Blue Devils would have gone to Williamson or Barrett and leaned on one of their stars to carry them to a win.

This season, that role belongs to Tre Jones. And the sophomore point guard embraced it on Tuesday night, scoring Duke's last six points en route to the win.

"Every basketball player growing up, that's their big dream, down the stretch, trying to make plays for your team and win the game," Jones said. "And what better place to do it than here."

Jones, who was the least hyped of Duke's quartet of five-star freshmen last season, led the team in scoring with 15 points and seven assists.

"I think the difference-maker for us was Tre," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We have a lot of young guys, a lot of new guys. But we've really tried to play good defense in our first 30 practices, and it paid off tonight. We played really good defense, and it starts off with that kid and the poise he had on offense."

All three Duke starting freshmen scored in double figures, and the Blue Devils got 18 points from their bench -- a problem area last season. Krzyzewski used nine players for 12 minutes or more on Tuesday, after generally sticking to an eight-man rotation last season. Alex O'Connell scored nine points off the bench to provide some outside shooting, and Jack White and Javin DeLaurier were key defensively and on the glass.

"The depth we have this year is much different than we've had in years past," Jones said. "We can go much deeper into the bench and not drop off at all."

"This year the focus is really on the team, more than just one or two guys," Jones added. "The depth that we have is much more, the team effort that we had tonight was huge."

Duke won't have the NBA draft hype it had last season, and it might not be a mainstay on nightly highlight reels, but the Blue Devils are adapting to a different way of playing -- and on Tuesday night, against a top-five team on a neutral floor, it worked.

"We love to hear that kind of stuff. We like the negative comments, we feed off that kind of stuff," O'Connell said. "That's what we wanted to do, we wanted to come out and show what we were made of tonight, and I think we did that."

Duke hosts Colorado State on Friday, while Kansas heads home to face UNC Greensboro.