No. 9 Duke hosts Coppin State in delayed opener

NCAA Basketball

Duke usually begins its schedule with a pair of home games on the first two dates available to play.

This year, the Blue Devils have been forced to wait while other teams began. Their new first opponent also has been on hold.

No. 9 Duke’s scheduled opener Wednesday night against Gardner-Webb was postponed because of positive coronavirus cases in the opponent’s program. The Blue Devils instead will open Saturday afternoon against Coppin State at home in Durham, N.C.

Coppin State also had a delay to the start of its season. The Eagles were supposed to play in a multi-team event at Marshall, facing the host Thundering Herd on Wednesday and then Arkansas State on Thursday (though originally the second foe was supposed to be Tennessee State). Coppin State had coronavirus issues, so that trip was scrapped.

Regardless of the date, the Blue Devils have won their past 20 openers under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

With a 25-6 record last season, the Blue Devils have a string of 13 consecutive seasons with at least 25 victories.

This figures to be another successful season for the blueblood program, which has brought in another stellar recruiting class.

Jalen Johnson, who was named to the All-ACC preseason first team, joins Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Henry Coleman and Mark Williams as touted newcomers.

Johnson has received a good dose of attention.

“With his natural talent and ability, he’s going to be one of the best,” Duke associate head coach Nate James said. “Especially in the open floor, he can really get out in transition.”

Returning sophomores Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore Jr. are expected to see expanded roles this season.

Moore said he has learned a lot about building his mental toughness.

“Just letting the game slow down in my mind and trying to be more in the moment instead of focused on things I can’t control,” Moore said.

This will be the first Coppin State-Duke meeting.

The Eagles, who were 11-20 a season ago, finished strong last winter. They won their final three games before the season was canceled because of the pandemic.

“We’re extremely confident going into this year,” Coppin State coach Juan Dixon said. “It definitely carries over.”

Despite some struggles in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, there were successes for Coppin State. Its four non-conference victories last year marked its largest total in non-league play since the early 1990s.

“We added some pieces, added some athleticism, some toughness, some shooting,” Dixon said. “We’re looking forward to having a very successful season.”

Coppin State’s DeJuan Clayton and Koby Thomas are both MEAC preseason first-team selections. Thomas posted 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last season, and Clayton checked in with 12.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

Dixon is in his fourth season as Coppin State’s coach.

When he was a player for Maryland — culminating in the 2002 national championship — he played on a team that was one of Duke’s main rivals. Krzyzewski dubbed him at the time as one of his favorite non-Duke players because of the way the guard performed.

–Field Level Media

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