Okafor, Blue Devils Too Much for Spartans

When Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski get together, you know it is going to be a battle.

Coach K’s ridiculously talented Blue Devils defeated Coach Izzo’s young Spartans in the Champions Classic Tuesday night, 81-71.

Duke came armed with the best recruiting class in the nation, featuring the crown jewel of the group, Jahlil Okafor. He was the top-ranked recruit in the 2014 class and is considered the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft this summer.

The Spartans came into this showdown shorthanded, with freshman Javon Bess out with a foot injury and sophomore Alvin Ellis III out with a sprained ankle.

With an already thin Spartan frontcourt, Okafor was able to show the world he could live up to the hype. He opened the game scoring eight points in five minutes, finishing with 10 and three boards at the half.

The Blue Devils pulled away to a 10-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the first, but MSU roared back. A Bryn Forbes three-pointer cut the lead to three with just over four minutes remaining. That was as close as the Spartans would cut it, as Duke eventually widened the gap to 40-33 at the half.

The Blue Devils shot very efficiently from the floor in the first, going 56 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep. Despite being undersized, MSU held a commanding advantage on the offensive boards, 8-2.

The second half started with both teams trading blows and staying neck and neck. With Duke up 59-51, Okafor picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes remaining. MSU also found themselves in foul trouble, with Denzel Valentine and Marvin Clark Jr. picking up their fourth fouls before the eight-minute mark. Sparty failed to capitalize on the absence of Okafor, and Duke was actually able to extend their lead to 13 at one point.

Trading baskets with Duke in the last five minutes was not good enough for Michigan State to make any kind of comeback, and they eventually fell 81-71.

The Blue Devil effort was led by senior Quinn Cook, who went off for 19 points and dished out six assists. Freshman Tyus Jones also shined down the stretch, scoring all 17 of his points in the second half. Man-child Okafor dominated the Spartans’ bigs in the paint, going for 17 points and pulling down five rebounds.

The Spartans were as cold as your mother-in-law from three-point range, finishing 5-20 behind the stripe. Branden Dawson made up for his lackluster performance against Navy with a stellar 18 points and nine rebounds. Travis Trice picked up right where he left off Friday, scoring 15 and adding eight dimes and six boards. Valentine also chipped in 13 points in the losing effort.

Coach Izzo has to be impressed with the effort his squad showed against the superior Blue Devils. Duke just had too much talent on the court for MSU to try to defend. Michigan State heads back home for a Friday night matchup with Loyola (IL.) at 7 p.m.

Blake Froling is the host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.

Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports