With Duke set for one final road game Tuesday night against Pittsburgh, the Blue Zone takes a look at a player from both sides who can be a difference-maker for his team:
Duke: Jeremy Roach
Jeremy Roach might just be the best primary ball-handler and orchestrator of this Duke offense. Most of the time, season-long starter Wendell Moore Jr. starts sets for the Blue Devils, but in the stretch during which Roach returned to the starting lineup in place of the injured Trevor Keels, Roach showed the capability to put together scoring opportunities better than anyone else on the team.
The sophomore guard has produced sporadically from a scoring perspective, but he’s starting to jell with the bench as he has now scored in double digits in three of the last four games. He is also incredibly careful with the ball, compiling a team-best 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season. With the double-double potential he displayed in back-to-back nine-assist performances against Syracuse and Clemson in January, it's clear that when Roach is at his best, the Duke offense is as well.
Pittsburgh: William Jeffress
It’s no secret that Pittsburgh has had a tumultuous-at-best 2021-22 season, but its best stretch of basketball may have come in February. Between Feb. 9 and Feb. 16, the Panthers managed to win three straight conference matchups with a fresh starting lineup introduced against Florida State.
After head coach Jeff Capel's starting lineup, there's a stiff drop-off in performance in the rotation. Welcoming the Blue Devils into Petersen Events Center for head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final away game is a tall order for the former Duke player and assistant coach, and for the unranked Panthers to stand any fighting chance against the fourth-ranked Blue Devils, the bench needs to show up. The best candidate to be that sixth man? Sophomore wing William Jeffress.
The Erie, Pa., native has yet to notch double figures this season, but he has flashed in other ways. He is a long, rangy guard who can rebound with the best at his position, averaging 3.6 rebounds per game to perfectly match his 3.6 points per game. Jeffress is only shooting 22% from beyond the arc on the year, but he did hit 3-of-6 triples against UMBC back in November. He, like his team, has struggled most of this year, but the potential for a signature game is there.
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