LAHAINA, HAWAII (AP) - Five games into his freshman season at Duke, Austin Rivers is still arcing his way through a learning curve.
If he’s this good now, imagine what he’ll be like later in the season.
Rivers shook off some early mistakes to hit four 3-pointers and score 18 points, lifting the No. 6 Blue Devils to a 77-67 win over Tennessee in the first round of the Maui Invitational on Monday.
“When you’re a freshman, you start evaluating what you’re doing and sometimes you’re a step slow to the next thing and that’s because you care,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You want to be good. You’ve just got to get through that.”
Rivers had a few wild drives that led to nowhere early, but settled down more as the game went on, hitting 4 of 6 from long range to key a couple of runs for the Blue Devils.
Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly added 17 each, and Duke (5-0) improved to 13-0 all-time in Maui by wearing down the young Volunteers with its depth and versatile lineup in the second half to pull away.
Mason Plumlee had 13 rebounds and Andre Dawkins added 10 points for the Blue Devils, who move on to Tuesday’s semifinals against No. 15 Michigan, which knocked off No. 8 Memphis.
“Late in that game, the biggest plays we could have made were defensive stops and defensive rebounds,” Kelly said. “I thought we did a pretty good job in the closing minutes of getting to all of those balls.”
Tennessee (2-1) is in rebuilding mode after the NCAA fiasco with coach Bruce Pearl, but still managed to keep up with Duke for a while. The Vols just couldn’t make shots at the rim early or from the perimeter the whole game, missing all eight of their 3-point attempts.
Jeronne Maymon had 14 points and 12 rebounds to lead Tennessee, which has No. 8 Memphis up next on Tuesday.
“I thought our guys competed,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. “They just made plays down the stretch and really executed. I thought we had a couple of quick shots, but it was tough.”
The Blue Devils have been the kings of the Maui, winning titles in 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2007.
Krzyzewski called this year’s team his most inexperienced group headed into Maui after losing its top three scorers from last season: ACC player of the year Nolan Smith, 2010 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Kyle Singler and Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
The Blue Devils are young but talented, with a heralded class of five freshman headed by Rivers, the consensus top recruit in the nation and son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Duke has already been through a string of tough opening games, beating Belmont, Presbyterian, Michigan State and Davidson. The win over the Spartans, last Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, gave Krzyzewski his 903rd win, passing his mentor and former coach Bobby Knight for most all-time in men’s Division I.