It was a Singler moment

PORTLAND — There's little question the Singler brothers, Kyle and E.J., work hard on the basketball court. That work ethic was on full display Saturday as they worked their tails off to avoid showing the brotherly love they have for one another.

A couple hours before the eagerly anticipated game that would pit Kyle and top-ranked Duke against E.J. and Oregon, the siblings didn't go so far as to acknowledge one another during shootaround. Their paths crossed with nary a hello.

It wasn't until layup drills shortly before the game, when the two were back-to-back at midcourt, that Kyle reached behind and slapped E.J. on the fanny. E.J. turned briefly but his brother had already begun jogging toward the basket.

"I just wanted to make sure he knew that even though we were competing against each other, to have fun and just enjoy it," said Kyle.

Enjoy it they did, especially Kyle, the Duke senior forward. He tied his career high with 30 points and his team cruised to a comfortable 98-71 triumph.

The former South Medford High stars were facing off in a game for the first time in their lives, and big brother wasted no time in establishing his dominance.

He even got the upper hand in stirring pregame introductions that sent chills through more than a few of the large throng from the Rogue Valley. Kyle was announced first for Duke, and E.J. first for the Ducks. In both instances there was emphasis on "from Medford" and it resonated.

As the brothers took the floor, they shared a hug and a pat on the back of the head.

"We just said we loved each other and good luck," said E.J., a sophomore.

Then they went at it as brothers do — before the ball could even be tipped off.

Kyle took his stance for the jump ball at center court, and E.J. planted his left leg in front of Kyle's right. They jostled briefly until a referee moved in to restore order.

"He was trying to punk me at the beginning of the game," said Kyle, "and I wasn't going to have it. It was fun and games."

Seconds after the tip, the players turned for Duke's end of the court, and Kyle planted a subtle, yet firm, shoulder into his brother's chest.

Asked about it later, Kyle grinned.

"Maybe," he said, "I don't know. I don't remember."

E.J. had a similarly vague recollection.

Kyle worked off screens to score Duke's first five points on a smooth-as-silk jumper from the free-throw line and a layup on which he was fouled by Joevan Catron and made the free throw.

Only 45 seconds had passed.

The Singlers, both small forwards, opened the game guarding each other.

"E.J. was nervous," said Duck coach Dana Altman. "I understand that. This was a big day for him. You saw Kyle, the older brother, so confident, so knowing what he was getting into. E.J., on the other hand, is not so experienced. He's a sophomore that has not been in a lot of games like this.

"Kyle curled those first two screens and lost E.J. so bad, I'm not sure he still knows where he's at."

Kyle's self-assuredness was evident throughout the game as he buried basket after basket from all manner of positions on the court.

Altman had seen the Duke star last May when Kyle visited E.J. and worked out with Oregon players in the weight room and in pickup games on the court.

"We tried to get him to transfer," Altman said, drawing laughs

No way would Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski go for that.

Coach K, who himself received a rock star's welcome when he entered the arena, spoke after the game of his esteem for Kyle.

"He has a warrior's spirit," he said. "He's all about winning and playing hard, and I love the way he performs. He's never nervous. He's the same all the time. He never has a play in a game or in a practice when he's not working hard. He's what I call a no-maintenance guy."

As the game unfolded, there wasn't much conversation between Kyle and E.J., just a couple utterances at the free-throw line. At one point, E.J. grabbed Kyle's shorts on the foul lane, just before the shot went up. And late in the half, E.J. flew over the back of his brother trying to get a rebound but avoided being called for a foul.

Kyle scored 15 first-half points, making 4 of 7 field goals, including two 3-pointers, and all five of his free throws.

E.J. was hit with two fouls and played only nine minutes, going 0-for-3, with no rebounds and a turnover.

"It was kind of tough in the first half," he said. "I didn't play too well. Definitely, I just let it soak in in the second half and I feel like my confidence came up a little bit and the shots started going in for me."

He scored 14 second-half points, including two 3-pointers — both after his brother had left the game.

There really was only one moment when the Singlers came together in an attention-getting play.

Kyle drove the left side to the basket, and E.J., defending, threw his body in front to take a charge with less than six minutes remaining. Instead, E.J. was whistled for a foul, and when the play was replayed on the big screen above the court, boos rolled down on Kyle as he stood at the free-throw line.

Asked if he thought it was the right call, E.J. scoffed.

"I don't think so," he said. "I looked at the jumbotron and saw the push-off. But, hey, that's the game of basketball. Calls don't always go your way."

Kyle didn't disagree.

"It was a 50-50 call," he said. "I think the ref kind of gave me the benefit of the doubt."

Kyle's big night wasn't the result of anything special Duke did for him. Teammate Mason Plumlee said neither the coaches nor players talked about his homecoming because it wasn't necessary.

"We wanted this to be a great game for Kyle, and he wanted that, too," said Plumlee, "so he just played his butt off and played really well. He's probably our best scorer, so he just needs to stay aggressive and not defer at all. I thought he did a great job of taking his shots, and he took them all within our offense. What'd he have, 30? And he had no bad shots. That's pretty impressive."

Kyle was lifted with 5:30 remaining, after making both free throws after his collision with E.J. He'd played every second to that point, reveling in the atmosphere and the battle with his brother.

"We're gonna have a lot of stories to tell after this," he said.

When he was taken out, he received a roaring ovation, many of the fans standing, and went down the Duke bench, bumping fists or shaking hands with everyone.

He then turned and raised his arms to the crowd as the cheering escalated. When he took his seat and as E.J. lined up for free throws at the far end of the court, a chant of "Ky-le, Sing-ler" washed through the arena.

"It was pretty cool," he said. "Since I've been at Duke, I've always wanted to come out here and play and have the chance for Oregonians to come out and watch Duke. It was just a great thing, and playing against my brother, I don't think you could line it up any better than what happened."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail

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