MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Two games into his college career, Canada’s R.J. Barrett has stepped seamlessly into a starring role for the Duke Blue Devils.
The 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., was the Blue Devils’ top scorer for the second straight game, pouring in 35 points in a 96-60 pre-season rout of the University of Toronto on Friday.
"It’s just being competitive. I think I am really good. I think I belong here. So just competing, really," said Barrett, who shot 15-for-26 on the night and grabbed nine rebounds.
Zion Williamson added 24 points, as he and Barrett were a two-man wrecking crew for the second consecutive game, dazzling the crowd at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Barrett’s virtual backyard with a dizzying array of dunks — seemingly enough to fill a season’s worth of highlight reels.
"It’s just us playing. It’s really easy to play with (Williamson), and the rest of our teammates do a good job of helping us out, spacing the floor and we just make the right reads after that," Barrett said.
Joey Baker, with 11 points, was the only other Blue Devil to score in double figures. Barrett and Williamson received a standing ovation when they left the game with just under four minutes to play.
Nikola Paradina led the Varsity Blues with 15 points.
"It was a great atmosphere, and for our players an opportunity to play on a big stage, so I think that’s exciting," said U of T coach John Campbell.
"For us to get a chance to play in big venues and play against historical institutions, and one in this case that has such a tremendous recruiting class, there’s so much buzz about this team, for us to be involved on this stage is great."
The game was the second of Duke’s three-game pre-season Canadian tour, and the first trip north of the border in the storied program’s history. The Blue Devils beat the back-to-back Canadian university silver medallists Ryerson Rams 86-67 on Wednesday, in Barrett’s much-anticipated college debut.
Barrett and Williamson combined for 63 points in Wednesday’s win, and over the two pre-season games have provided a tantalizing preview of the upcoming NCAA season.
Barrett and Williamson were ESPN’s No. 1 and 2-ranked freshmen. Duke also boasts No. 3-ranked Cam Reddish, who hasn’t played yet due to injury.
And while Barrett has been touted as the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick next spring, the six-foot-seven, 285-pound Williamson — who has a unique combination of bulk, splendid ball skills and athleticism — could give the Canadian a run for his money.
"I knew he was good but coaching him now, he’s a very special player, and R.J. is too," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Williamson, who was trending on Twitter during the game, brought the fans out of their seats when he drove to the hoop with an fierce hop, step and dunk in the third quarter.
"(I thought) ‘Alright, I’m up here, I might as well dunk it," he said post-game in the locker-room.
Asked if he ever surprises himself, Williamson said: "Actually, eah, sometimes I do."
Barrett followed it up with an alley-oop dunk of his own on Duke’s next possession.
Krzyzewski had kind words for Toronto and Mississauga, saying its been a "great trip." The team’s Hall of Fame coach, with five NCAA titles to his name, noted a crowd of almost 10,000 is expected for Sunday’s game in Montreal where the Blue Devils face McGill in their final game of the tour.
The 71-year-old coach said the Canadian competition his team faced was "a little bit better" than he’d expected.
"We played two different teams, Ryerson is more athletic and plays more of a conventional, really good system. I think both teams are very well coached," the coach said. "We played against two different systems, which is good for us."
The arena — formerly the Hershey Centre, normally home to Raptors 905 — was filled to its 5,400-seat capacity for both games, and Friday’s crowd included Canadian sprinter and three-time Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse, Washington Capitals winger Devante Smith-Pelly, Las Vegas Golden Knights goalie Malcolm Subban and 10-time NBA all-star David Robinson, whose son Justin plays for Duke.
Just like Wednesday’s game, the arena was awash in Duke blue.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Barrett late in the first helped send Duke into the second quarter with a 23-14 lead.
The Varsity Blues closed the gap to 32-26, but Duke dominated the rest of the quarter to take a 43-28 advantage into the halftime break.
Duke exploded in the third, and led 70-44 with one quarter left to play.