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by Donal Ware

Two conference champions met in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night, something that has become typical at Duke University early on in the season.

The ACC Champion Duke Blue Devils hosted the CIAA Champion Shaw Bears – in exhibition action – before a packed house as the Blue Devils defeated the Bears 80-66. It wasn’t easy for the Blue Devils as the scrappy Bears played well. And while the Bears never had the lead the score was tied 13-13 with 15:10 remaining in the first half. “We were pretty happy with the effort which our guys played,” said Shaw head coach Cleo Hill, Jr. “I think in the end, they imposed their size on us, where we had to focus on them inside a little more. [Andre] Dawkins shot well from outside. They shot 53 percent from the field and I think that was the difference.”

The exhibitions are necessary for the Blue Devils (and their opponents for that matter) as they prepare for their tough season as a whole, but particularly in the ACC. Some years back the NCAA instituted a rule whereas Division I teams could no longer schedule “travel teams” with professional players as exhibition games such as the Harlem Globetrotters.

Since the 2007-08 season beginning with Barton College, the Blue Devils have played the Division II national champion from the previous year. Over the years, the Blue Devils have played CIAA teams such as North Carolina Central (2004 and 2005), Virginia Union (2009), and Saint Augustine’s (2010). This is the third time Duke has played Shaw. The schools get a good paycheck, some exposure they may not ordinarily get and a chance to play against some of the best players in the country.

Despite the obvious odds, Shaw was looking to be the next LeMoyne who defeated Syracuse in exhibition play two seasons ago. It didn’t happen tonight, but Shaw has nothing to hold its head down, playing the #6 ranked team in the country well.

This was my fourth time covering a game at Cameron. The first time, I witnessed one of the best individual performances that has ever been seen in Cameron as J.J. Miller of North Carolina A&T scored 34 points, but A&T lost 108-73. Shaw’s first exhibition game against Duke in 2006 saw the Bears fall 96-45. North Carolina Central’s first year in Division I basketball in 2007 saw the Eagles fall to Duke 121-56. So to lose by 14 is not bad at all.

Shaw guard Tony Smith is a pre-season All-CIAA performer and maybe the best pure point guard in the league. He scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting with three assists before going down with a leg injury. He came back briefly, but was unable to finish the game. Without Smith, the Bears don’t win the CIAA Championship last year. Newcomer Malik Alvin was 4-of-18 shooting, but was aggressive getting to the free throw line seven times, making five and finishing with 13 points.

“That pair of guards is really good,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “If you have good guards, you’ll give people some problems.”

Coach K was also impressed with the way the Bears played as a whole. “This was a really good game for us,” said Coach K. “Cleo [Hill] does a great job with his team.”

Blue Devils top recruit Austin Rivers is as advertised. He was able to get to the basket and was fouled enough to shoot six free throws, while going 5-of-8 from the field and finishing with 12 points. But it was his defense that impressed Coach K the most.

“I thought the second half was a big half for Austin,” said Krzyzewski. He is supposed to be this great scorer, but he wanted to play defense and he played [Tony] Smith well in the second half.”

A couple of prominent people were at Cameron for the game with a little time on their hands because of the NBA lockout and labor dispute. Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers came to see his son Austin. Former Blue Devils’ Kyrie Irving, this years #1 pick and Nolan Smith, picked 21st by the Portland Trailblazers, took in the game as well.

With Shaw’s performance it means the Bears should defend their CIAA crown, right?

“The CIAA is a very, very tough conference, very physical, very athletic, said Hill. “I think knowing that we can play with a team with the history of Duke and only lose by 14 on their floor, I think it helps.”

Known as the Voice of Black College Sports, Donal Ware has covered historically black college and university sports and pro sports across the U.S. for years. He is the host of the nationally syndicated FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW which airs on radio stations around the country and on Saturdays from 1-2 p.m. ET at www.boxtorow.com. You can follow him on twitter @dware1 or @boxtorow