ATLANTA — Seth Curry scored 23 points and No. 9 Duke held off a furious comeback by No. 3 Kentucky, beating the defending national champions 75-68 Tuesday night in the first matchup between the storied programs since 2001.
Duke (2-0) appeared to be in control, even with Mason Plumlee on the bench in foul trouble. The Blue Devils ripped off a 13-3 run, capped by Rasheed Sulaimon’s 3-pointer that made it 58-44 with 9 1/2 minutes remaining.
But Kentucky (1-1) wasn’t done, rallying like the defending champ even though this is essentially a whole new team in coach John Calipari’s one-and-done system. The Wildcats outscored Duke 17-6 over the next six minutes and actually had a chance to tie it.
Julius Mays missed a 3-pointer with the Blue Devils clinging to a 64-61 lead.
Curry made sure youthful Kentucky didn’t get any closer. He schooled freshman guard Archie Goodwin on a drive — using a pump fake to get past the Wildcat — that essentially clinched the win.
Alex Poythress led Kentucky with 20 points, while Nerlens Noel and Goodwin added 16 apiece. All are freshmen, showing this team has plenty of room to grow before tournament time.
Even though Kentucky opened the season with a victory over Maryland, Calipari wasn’t happy with his team’s effort — especially on the boards. They were outrebounded 54-38 by the Terrapins, including 28 at the offensive end.
That was simply unacceptable given Kentucky’s vaunted frontcourt featuring the 6-foot-10 Noel and 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein.
Rebounding wasn’t as much of an issue this time — Duke finished with a 31-30 edge — but the more experienced Blue Devils showed a bit more poise down the stretch. Especially Curry, a senior guard.
After Duke let Kentucky back in the game by continuing to put up errant 3-pointers, Curry finally changed things up. He pumped faked and took off for the hoop, drawing a foul on Goodwin with just over 2 minutes remaining. He knocked down both ends of the one-and-one, pushing Duke to a 66-61 lead with 2:04 remaining.
Poythress gave the Wildcats a semblance of hope, putting back a missed shot, but Curry blew by Goodwin for a layin that made it 68-63 with 1:13 left and essentially sealed it. Calipari called a timeout and screamed at Goodwin as the freshman walked toward the bench.
In the final minute, Curry added two more free throws to finish off the Wildcats.
Plumlee fouled out near the end, but not before scoring 18 points in 29 minutes. Ryan Kelly and Sulaimon had 10 points apiece. Both Curry and Sulaimon hit three shots beyond the arc, as the Blue Devils finished 8 of 18 from 3-point range.a