For 20 minutes, it was a reminder of how Duke won a national championship last year over Butler. For the next 20, it was fair warning of how the Blue Devils might do it again.
Nolan Smith scored a game-high 24 points and freshman Kyrie Irving added 21 -- all in the final 23:30 -- as Duke best Butler 82-70 in a rematch of last year's national championship game.
This time, Duke didn't have to worry about a buzzer-beater.
But Butler gave Mike Krzyzewski's team plenty to concern itself with, particularly in the opening half. The Bulldogs kept Duke's uptempo offense corralled in the halfcourt and kept the ball on the perimeter. The Blue Devils shot 16 3-pointers in the first half alone and connected on just four. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs simply out-hustled Duke while the backcourt combo of Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored opened shots for teammates.
In the second half, the Blue Devils would finally pull away.
Foul trouble for Butler's defensive whiz Ronald Nored opened the door. Nored fouled Duke's Smith shooting a 3-pointer, picking up his fourth foul with 13:04 remaining and Butler ahead 44-42
Smith drained all three free throws, kicking off a a 12-0 Duke run in just over two minutes that gave the Blue Devils enough breathing room for their eighth win of the year.
Yet the Bulldogs didn't go away. Butler would cut the margin to 60-57 with 7:20 to play, following a personal 10-4 run by Shawn Vanzant , who was playing in place of the injured Shelvin Mack. Irving answered with consecutive 3-pointers to push the lead back to nine and Duke grew the margin until the final horn.
Injuries and foul trouble took a toll on both teams, particularly the Bulldogs. Mack left midway through the second half with apparent leg cramps and did not return. Center Andrew Smith, who helped stabilize Butler's interior with Matt Howard in foul trouble, missed a stretch of roughly 10 minutes in the second half as he was checked for concussion symptoms following a foul by Duke's Mason Plumlee. Duke's Kyrie Irving suffered an apparent foot injury late in the second half, but returned after sitting out a handful of position. Stars Howard and Duke's Kyle Singler each fouled out, as did Butler's Zach Hahn.
Vanzant led Butler with 14 points off the bench. Howard added 13 and Mack 11.
Singler added 13 for Duke, though he struggled from 3-point range, hitting just 1-of-6. Andre Dawkins added 10 points off the bench.
The win was Krzyzewski's 876th, tying him with Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp for third place on the all-time list. North Carolina's Dean Smith, who won 879, is up next. Bob Knight's 902 wins are the all-time Division I men's record.
Butler nearly gave Duke its first half-time deficit of the season after a Zach Hahn 3-pointer put the Bulldogs up 33-31 with six seconds to play, but the Blue Devils' Nolan Smith took the inbounds pass coast-to-coast for an uncontested dunk to knot the scoring heading into the break.
The 33-33 halftime score was nearly identical to Duke's 33-32 lead in the national championship game.
In the second half, the similarities ended.