A number of old and new faces made a positive impression on the opening day of the 2018/19 NCAA Division I basketball season, with all eyes on Australian Jack White who stepped out as co-captain of one of the most famous college basketball programs in the US.
Duke made a statement on opening night, dismantling #2 Kentucky 118-84 in what proved to be a lop-sided encounter. The highly anticipated freshmen trio of RJ Barrett (33 points), Zion Williamson (28 points) and Cam Reddish (22 points) overwhelmed the Wildcats with an offensive onslaught that had Blue Devil fans salivating. And while the star-studded trio stole the limelight in the big win, the lone Aussie on the Blue Devils team proved to be the 'glue guy' who played his role to near perfection.
White would go on to play a career-high 30 minutes, exactly double the number of minutes he had ever previously logged for the Blue Devils across his previous two years. He also went close to registering a first career double-double, scoring 9 points on 4-8 shooting with 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. It was an encouraging all-round performance by the 6'7 forward who fought for loose balls, fought through screens, and did the little things on court that ultimately made a big difference. While it is still early days, the first game of the season suggests he may well become an entrenched starter and the ideal complementary role player alongside Duke's predicted 'one-and-done' individual stars.
Hartford were outdone 68-75 against Central Connecticut State, but not before senior forward George Blagojevic delivered his biggest offensive output since his freshman year. The 6'8 big man from Geelong went 8-10 from the field en route to registering 19 points, the best outing he has enjoyed since he fired in a career-high 24 points against St Francis Brooklyn all the way back in November 2015.
Blagojevic displayed his all-round game against the Blue Devils, pulling down 6 rebounds while handing out 4 assists, with 3 steals and 3 blocked shots in 38 minutes. While the Hawks will rue their missed opportunity to secure an early season win, there is a lot to like about the opening game performance from their lone Aussie on the roster this season.
In one of the closest finishes on opening day, New Mexico escaped with a win against Cal State Northridge courtesy of a banked three-pointer at the buzzer from Anthony Mathis. Despite leading by 4 points with 34 seconds to play courtesy of a Makuach Maluach lay-up, the Matadors came up with score and then a steal to tie the game up with just 6 seconds left, paving the way for Mathis' game-winner. Sophomore guard Maluach demonstrated his importance to the Lobos, pouring in 15 points on 5-9 shooting with 2 rebounds and 2 steals as he helped guide New Mexico to an 87-84 win.
Highly touted freshman guard Dragan Elkaz made an immediate impact in his first college outing for UC Riverside under first year head coach, fellow Australian David Patrick. Inserted into the starting line-up, the 6'2 Elkaz played 24 minutes and added 12 points (3-9 FG) for the Highlanders who took the lead against Oregon State midway through the second half. However the Beavers reverted to a full court press and quickly took back the lead for good to earn a 72-59 win. While the loss dampened the debut of both Elkaz and Patrick, both would be buoyed by their performance in their opening game.
In his first game for Akron, junior forward Deng Riak played 25 minutes as the Zips powered to a 70-50 victory over Cedarville. Having transferred from East Carolina, Riak looks like he will play a large role for the Zips this season, finishing the game with 7 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks as he looked to blow out the cobwebs in their season opener.
Receiving just 9 minutes on court, Matt McCarthy made the most of his limited opportunity as San Francisco blew out UC Davis 76-42. The 6'9 senior forward scored 11 points on 5-7 shooting with 8 rebounds in a powerful cameo off the bench. He would be hoping that his good early showing will translate to more time in his final season with the Dons.
Highly touted freshman Sam Froling made his college debut for Creighton as they were made to work hard for a tougher than expected 78-67 win against Western Illinois. The 7'0 Queenslander drained a three-pointer from the top of the key for his first points as a Bluejay, finishing the game with 5 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in 14 minutes. Fellow Aussie big man Jacob Epperson did not see any action for Creighton in their season opener.