NEW YORK -- Jon Scheyer hears his Duke team getting criticized for its lack of athleticism and believes it may be because three of its five starters are white.
"That definitely could be," Scheyer said after pumping in 19 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds to lead No. 7 Duke to a 68-59 victory over No. 13 UConn in the championship game of the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
"Without saying too much I think that's a possibility," he added. "I think there's definitely a thought of that. We have some really athletic [white] guys like Miles and Mason [Plumlee], for example, and I don't really hear people talking about them being great athletes. So I don't know what that means. But I do know that."
The 6-foot-5 Scheyer was named Most Outstanding Player of the event after posting 35 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds and just 4 turnovers over the two games in the Big Apple. Duke beat Arizona State, 64-53, in Wednesday's semifinals.
Nolan Smith added 16 points, Lance Thomas had 11 points and 11 boards before fouling out and Andre Dawkins scored 11 points. Brian Zoubek, a 7-foot-1 reserve from Haddonfield, N.J., added 11 boards off the bench.
Duke won despite hoisting 74 shots and making just 21 because it converted 20-of-25 foul shots and hit 6-from-18 beyond the arc. The Devils also grabbed 56 rebounds, including 25 offensive, to just 43 and 14 for the Huskies (4-1).
"We're big, too," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Non-athletic but very big. Thomas and Zoubek were huge."
The athleticism angle began when a reporter told Krzyzewski after the game that ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb had called his team "alarmingly unathletic."
"Actually, we're pretty athletic, we're just not as athletic as Connecticut [which started five African-American players]," Coach K said. "I wouldn't call us like this athletic team, but we're not amazingly non-athletic."
Asked if he thought Duke was an athletic team, UConn guard Jerome Dyson, who scored a team-best 15 points and is African-American, said: "Somewhat, I mean they were hungry for offensive rebounds. That, to me, is what changed the game for us. And we weren't able to run the way that we did early in the first half. That took us out of our game because we're so accustomed to starting our fast-break and getting a lot of points off that."
Whatever its level of athleticism, Duke (6-0) is still undefeated.
The Blue Devils ended a four-game losing streak to the Huskies with the victory. The team's last met in the 2004 Final Four, when UConn rallied from an eight-point deficit late to win in the Alamodome in San Antonio. UConn went on to win its second NCAA championship and the two programs have combined to win five titles since 1991.
Scheyer was the key to the game and Krzyzewski said he "values the ball" and is the "most important player we have."
"I'm not going to say I'm the most athletic guy in college basketball," Scheyer said. "But I would say I'm one of the smartest and I know how to play the game and I think that's one thing our team overall. We have guys who really know how to play the game and we are athletic, so for me I don't consider myself one of the most athletic guys but I'm athletic enough. I'm fine."
Asked if he was frustrated that his team is considered unathletic despite its achievements, Scheyer said: "It's a little frustrating. For us this year we just said going into the year let's win. What other people want to say about us they can say about us. Let's just win so this was our first chance against a high level opponent to say that we're a really good team."
He added that he hopes people appreciate his game for what it is.
"When they talk about my game, people have never described it as athletic so I'm not getting offended eight years later when they're still not staying it," Scheyer said.
"But I hope people do see that I play the game the right way and I'm a competitor and I want to be a winner and that's something I'm out to prove this year."
Duke figures to get more athletic when the 6-10 freshman Mason Plumlee returns, probably within the next two weeks. He is out indefinitely with a fractured wrist.
Asked how Plumlee would impact the team, Smith, who is African-American, quipped: "Even more athletic than people don't think we are. Mason's an athlete, he can run, jump. We can't wait for him to get back."