After each Duke men's basketball game this season, check back here for the Player of the Game and more. Today, the Blue Zone breaks down Jeremy Roach's big night and the rest of the Blue Devils' big win against Virginia.
One player: Jeremy Roach
A starter-quality player coming off of the bench is an amazing asset for any team to possess, and Jeremy Roach continues to prove his immense value for the Blue Devils as he carves out his new role as the sixth man. Against Virginia, Roach was by far the best player on the court for Duke in all 32 minutes he played. Shooting 6-of-7 from the field and 3-of-3 from long range, the sophomore out of Leesburg, Va., provided the much-needed offensive boost for a Duke team that saw two of its most prolific scorers in Paolo Banchero and Wendell Moore Jr. struggle for much of the game.
Coming off of the bench for the third straight game has been a bit of a change for the player who started most of the early-season games. However, Roach has not missed a beat. His precise shooting and defensive awareness helped the Blue Devils pull out the revenge game against the Cavaliers. Slowing down Virginia guard Kihei Clark—who exploded for 18 points in the first half but put up just seven in the second—was crucial for the Blue Devils down the stretch. There is no doubt that Roach deserved this shout for Player of the Game.
One word: Passing
Consistent scoring did seem a little hard to come by, however, for Duke. Even with his impressive game, Roach ended the game with zero assists, and the team finished with just nine assists, seven lower than Virginia's 16. Sharing the ball and finding the open man is typically key for Blue Devil scoring; Duke currently ranks ninth nationwide with 17.1 assists per game.
So, it becomes very apparent when the offense isn't flowing. Scoring just 65 points, the Blue Devils were well below their average of 79.5 points per game, the 22nd-best mark in the country. Ball movement is key to creating a good offense, and Duke has been a fantastic example of how that works. Wednesday night, however, the Blue Devils struggled there, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski no doubt would prefer the offense to run more smoothly this late in the season.
One stat: 20 points allowed in the paint
A huge positive for the Blue Devils is the defensive improvement they showed from the last matchup with Virginia. In the disappointing last-second loss just weeks ago, Duke allowed 52 points in the paint to the Cavaliers' offense. While the decisive buzzer-beater happened to be one of Virginia's only 3-point makes of the game, it was the poor interior defense that let Virginia stay in the game. In the rematch, however, Duke’s big men stepped it up a notch. Only 20 paint points were scored by Virginia in Wednesday night’s game.
This massive improvement shows an area in which Krzyzewski and the rest of the staff planned extremely well. Although Kihei Clark got extremely hot from long-range, limiting Virginia to shots from outside the paint made a world of difference for the defense overall. Sophomore center Mark Williams in particular showed great improvement down low. In the first matchup, Williams had three blocks but four fouls; In the rematch, Williams helped lock down the paint, posting four blocks for the sixth time this season and only fouling once. Williams' effort, combined with the rest of the team forcing Virginia toward the perimeter, allowed Duke to win the paint-points battle, leading to the eventual win.
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