A team of the future, Duke, gave top-ranked Virginia a nice pre-Georgetown tuneup tonight. The player of now, Ralph Sampson, was dominant when forced to be and the unbeaten Cavaliers won this first Atlantic Coast Conference game, 104-91.
With just five misses in 23 field-goal tries, Sampson's 36 points were nearly triple his average after four games this season for the Cavaliers, a hint of the enormous impact the 30-second clock and three-point play will have in the ACC.
The score was about double the league average last season. In the first half, Virginia scored two more points than it did in the entire game last season that led to nationwide tinkering with the rules: that 47-45 loss to North Carolina for the ACC tournament title.
"Fun," Sampson said of the changes that should lessen defensive pressure on him. "I enjoy playing at that pace. I got out and ran the break a couple times. The clock didn't affect the game that much, but it did force a faster tempo."
ACC historians snapped to attention when Duke's Tom Emma threw in the first three-pointer of league play, a 21-footer from the left of the key, in the first three minutes. Everyone else came alive with anticipation when the Devils then started running away from the Cavaliers.
With just under four minutes gone, Duke led by two points; about eight minutes later, Duke was up, 32-23.
It was a fine debut for four freshmen who will become even more familiar. The quickest, Johnny Dawkins, from Washington's Mackin High, scored 21 points and had five assists; the sturdiest, forward Mark Alarie, had 19 points and 10 rebounds; the unluckiest, Jay Bilas, guarded Sampson and fouled out in just 15 total minutes.
"Good," Sampson said of the Devils' suddenly strong front court, "but still pretty much like forwards."
Exactly. Against what seemed a boy-to-man defense, Sampson had no trouble getting his assortment of 12-foot hooks near the free-throw lane or turnaround jumpers from the left base line. He also dunked a time or two, and once even twisted his body to lean under the whole basket, grab the ball and scoop it in.
Just when those cramped into Cameron Indoor Stadium started dreaming upset, Virginia went on a 15-2 tear to grab a halftime lead it never relinquished. Nearly every prominent Cavalier, veterans such as Sampson, Craig Robinson, Othell Wilson and Ricky Stokes, and a new sharpshooter, transfer Rick Carlisle, had a hand in the streak.
When Virginia started to run, it pulled away. Never very far; always far enough. Several of Sampson's 14 rounds allowed the smallish Wilson and Stokes breakways they converted into points, either on layups or free throws.
The clock rarely was a factor; when it was, the advantage was Virginia's.
Duke got within eight points a time or two in the second half, usually on a basket by Dawkins. The last was a tough shot by tough Dan Meagher over Sampson with 2 1/2 minutes left. Then Sampson took a giant step around Meagher at the other end and made a layup from 10 feet. A hook and stuff followed two free throws by Jim Miller and victory was assured.
"Our team really gutted it out in the latter stages of the first half," Virginia Coach Terry Holland said. "We probably played as well as we can play, at both ends of the floor, during that stretch."