PORTLAND, Ore. The game between top-ranked Duke and Oregon was merely a formality for the first on-court meeting of Blue Devils star Kyle Singler and his little brother E.J., a sophomore forward for the Ducks.
And for Kyle, it was even more: His first chance to play in his home state since leaving for Durham, N.C.
“Every moment I was out there I was trying to soak it all in,” the elder Singler brother said. “Trying to look at the signs, trying to find the people I knew in the stands. I was focused in and trying to win, but the environment was great.”
He made the most of it, with 30 points and five rebounds to lead Duke to a 98-71 victory Saturday.
The game was dubbed by one fan as “The Singler Mingler.” The brothers grew up in Medford, Ore., about 275 miles to the south of where the game was played at the Rose Garden.
The eventual outcome didn’t much matter when the brothers hugged tightly after the game.
“It was definitely fun,” E.J. Singler said. “One of the funnest games I’ve ever played in.”
The younger Singler scored 14 points, all in the second half, for Oregon (4-2).
It was the first time the Singlers played against each other, and the first time they were on the same court in a real game since they led South Medford High School to the state championship in 2007.
Kyle Singler, the taller and heavier of the two at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, was named the most outstanding player of last year’s Final Four, leading the Blue Devils to the national championship.
He opened scoring with a fallaway jumper and Duke never trailed. His 3-pointer midway through the first half put the Blue Devils up 20-7.
Duke went up 31-12 in the first half on Miles Plumlee’s alley-oop dunk. The Ducks narrowed it to 33-23 later in the period, but Duke led 40-25 at halftime.
E.J. Singler had two fouls and no points in the first half. His lone attempt from the field was an airball.
The younger Singler, at 6-6 and 210 pounds, was averaging 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds going into the game.
E.J. said it was a little “weird” when he glanced over during warmups and saw his brother knocking down shots. He has always looked up to Kyle, both in basketball and as a brother.
“I’ll remember it for the rest of my life,” he said of the game.
E.J. Singler was lured to Oregon by longtime coach Ernie Kent, an alum who was dismissed after the team finished 16-16 last season. The Ducks replaced Kent with Dana Altman, who spent 16 seasons at Creighton.
Kyle Singler hit a 3-pointer to give the Blue Devils a 52-31 lead early in the second half as Duke put it out of reach of the outmatched Ducks. Nolan Smith’s fastbreak layup gave Duke a 61-31 lead.
Smith added 18 points and six rebounds for Duke.
The Blue Devils have opened 6-0 for the fourth straight season, and 18th overall, under Mike Krzyzewski. The win extended Duke’s winning streak to 16 games.
“I’m very proud of Kyle. Today was a special day for him,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s truly one of the special kids I’ve had the opportunity to coach at any level.”
The Rose Garden gave the big brother a standing ovation when he left the game with just over five minutes to play. He raised a hand in acknowledgment and the blue-clad crowd behind Duke’s bench chanted his name.
Kyle Singler went to Duke the same year that Kevin Love, another Oregon prep star, decided to attend UCLA. While Love went to the NBA after only a year with the Bruins, Kyle has remained at Duke, where he’s averaged 15.8 points and 6.8 rebounds over his career.
This season Singler was averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds for the Blue Devils, who were coming off an 82-68 victory over No. 4 Kansas State.
The Ducks, coming off a 75-52 victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday, were led by Joevan Catron with 18 points and eight rebounds.
It was the 27th time the Ducks have faced a No. 1 team and Oregon is 3-24 with all the wins against UCLA.
It was the first meeting between the schools. The game was well attended by Duke fans, and many of those at the game sported the gear of both teams – including the Singler family.
“They were making half-Duke shirts, half-Oregon shirts,” E.J. said. “I think they had fun with that.”