A tight back and forth battle took a steep downhill turn for Duke down the stretch as the Blue Devils were dominated by Marquette in the closing minutes in a 73-62 defeat for the CBE Classic championship.
Before a sellout crowd in Kansas City, Duke went scoreless for nearly five full minutes as Marquette turned a 58-58 tie into an insurmountable 69-58 lead with just more than a minute remaining.
Potential All-American point guard Dominic James keyed the run by scoring eight of the 11 points for the Golden Eagles, as his combination of outside shooting and dribble drive proved too much for the Devils to handle.
It wasn't just James though who troubled Duke in the Blue Devils' first loss of the season.
The entire Marquette backcourt proved too athletic and made too many game changing plays for Duke to assert any control in the game.
Jerel McNeal poured in 17 points of his own to go along with five steals, while Wesley Matthews contributed eight points and helped slow Duke's DeMarcus Nelson after a quick flurry at the beginning of the game.
Nelson scored 11 of Duke's first 15 points, including a trio of three pointers that staked the Devils to a 15-8 lead.
Nelson wouldn't score again until late in the second half though and finished the game with 13 points.
Duke's backcourt struggled to protect the ball against Marquette's intense perimeter pressure, turning the ball over 19 times which led to 25 Golden Eagles points.
As the game began to slip away in the final minutes, Duke tried to turn to Josh McRoberts to turn the tide.
McRoberts was isolated on the block for several consecutive possessions but could not figure out a way to finish a move to the basket against the defense of Ousmane Barro.
McRoberts led Duke in scoring with 15 points but shot just 4-of-15 from the floor for the game.
Duke's 4-0 start to the season had been keyed by terrific balance and offensive flow, but neither was present for the Blue Devils following the quick start out of the gates.
The team became stagnant offensively late and the Devils had just two players in double figures by the end of the night.
The contributions from the prized four man freshmen class fell off considerably, despite solid efforts from Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek, who combined for 17 points and nine rebounds.
Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson each struggled, with Henderson going scoreless and Scheyer netting three points all from the foul line.
The difference in the game came at the top though, as James easily won the point guard battle with Duke's Greg Paulus, who turned the ball over six times and played sloppily with the dribble and his decision making, in addition to defensive struggles.
James, meanwhile handed out seven assists to go with his 25 points and only turned the ball over once as he combined with McNeal to control the tempo and flow of the game on both ends of the court.
One of the biggest Duke bright spots was the play of sophomore David McClure off the bench, who continued his recent solid play by making all three of his field goal attempts, including one three pointer.
McClure was also active on the offensive glass with a pair of key offensive rebounds in just 13 minutes of action.
Though the loss exposed some of Duke's problem areas, it also revealed why the Devils had been so effective through the first four games of the season.
Duke is at its best when the offense is free flowing and the shots come within the system, not when a single player gets isolated.
The offense went flat as Duke continued to go to McRoberts on the block. The 6-10 sophomore had been very effective in all aspects up to that point in the game.
McRoberts led the team in assists, blocked a couple of shots, and was on both ends of two alley-oop plays that brought the Duke crowd in Kansas City to its feet, but his inability to score in traffic late dampened an otherwise good performance.
Duke will return to action at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday night against Davidson, when the Devils will aim to return to their winning ways.