Hampton’s Mike Tuitt, left, and Christopher Tolson react in the closing seconds of the second half of a West Regional NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game, Friday, March 18, 2011, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Kyrie Irving came back for Duke and helped bring Mike Krzyzewski to the brink of another milestone.
Irving scored 14 points in his first game in three months, and the top-seeded Blue Devils routed 16th-seeded Hampton 87-45 on Friday in the second round of the West Regional for Krzyzewski’s 899th career victory.
Andre Dawkins added 13 points, Mason Plumlee had 12, Kyle Singler finished with 11 and Miles Plumlee had 13 rebounds for the Blue Devils (31-4).
Duke never trailed and shot 53 percent while dominating from the start, winning its fourth straight and advancing to a third-round matchup with No. 8 seed Michigan (21-13) on Sunday.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Hampton (24-9) had its five-game winning streak snapped. Its top three scorers — Darrion Pellum, Kwame Morgan and Charles Funches — were a combined 9 for 29.
Most of the attention surrounding this one centered around Irving, whose return adds another elite player to a Blue Devils roster already full of them.
After the electrifying freshman point guard injured the big toe on his right foot on Dec. 4, the Blue Devils prepared for life without him for the rest of the season. Irving worked out in public last week before an ACC tournament game, fueling speculation that he might return. Initially, Krzyzewski downplayed the possibility before acknowledging it earlier this week and then pronouncing him ready to play limited minutes.
Irving checked in with 15:19 left in the first half to a standing ovation from the Duke fans. Perhaps trying to do too much too soon, he was whistled for charging on his second trip downcourt, and his first shot — a wild up-and-under layup — wasn’t close.
Then, during his next shift on the court, he showed he’s just as quick as before. Irving burst down the left side of the lane, drew a slap on the arm from Kwame Morgan and tumbled to the court — only to pop right up, unaffected, and knock down two free throws.
But once he found his rhythm from the field, he was difficult for Hampton to stop, scoring on a pair of authoritative drives to the rim before hitting 3-pointers on consecutive trips downcourt in the final 2 minutes.
Perhaps overlooked in the obsession with Irving’s toe was the latest career accomplishment for their Hall of Fame coach.
Coach K moved one win from joining Bob Knight as the only Division I men’s coaches with 900 career victories. He can tie his mentor and former coach at 902 wins if the Blue Devils win the West Regional final and clinch their 12th Final Four berth under him.
A victory in Houston would not only put Duke back in the national championship game, it would leave Krzyzewski alone atop the wins list.
Krzyzewski’s 100th NCAA tournament game at Duke ended like so many of the ones before it — in lopsided fashion.
Duke was up by double figures before Hampton managed its first rebound, opened the game on a 16-4 run and never let up while essentially putting the Pirates out of it at halftime. The Blue Devils bridged the halves by reeling off 14 straight points, then made it a 30-point game on Smith’s dunk with just under 16 minutes to play. By then, they were well on their way to their 15th straight NCAA tournament win in the state of North Carolina.
Pellum finished with nine points, roughly half his average, for Hampton. A decade after the Pirates pulled one of the biggest shockers in the history of the tournament — upsetting then-No. 2 seed Iowa State in the first round as a No. 15 — the Pirates were never a threat to one-up themselves by becoming the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1.