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 performance and the rest of the Blue Devils' tight win against Syracuse in the ACC tournament:
One player: Jeremy Roach
Coming off the bench for a much-needed boost, sophomore guard Jeremy Roach once again claims the Player of the Game title. With the offense struggling for many of the early sequences, Duke allowed Syracuse to hang around and eventually take the lead going into the half. However, Roach stepped up big with the game on the line, dropping 19 points on 12 shots and becoming Duke’s second-highest scorer for the game.
It wasn't just his scoring that stood out for the Blue Devils, but his overall activity as well. The stat sheet doesn’t do justice to the way Roach helped the team out defensively, as he was seemingly everywhere to help shut down the Orange late, leading to Duke scoring 10 straight to close out the game. One play that stood out, in particular, occurred when Roach fouled a Syracuse player shooting a corner three. While fouling a 3-point shooter is never ideal, it was the way that Roach made up ground on the closeout, getting from one man right over to the other, that serves as a perfect example of just how helpful his activity was for Duke. If he can continue that kind of production for the rest of tournament season, this team could be capable of a deep run in head coach Mike Krzyzewski's last season.
One word: Settling
In a first half that the Blue Devils finished down four points, Duke launched up 22 3-point shots, hitting on just six of them. As a result of settling for long-range shots, the Blue Devils put little pressure on Syracuse's depleted rotation and generated few second-chance points.
One example of that was freshman forward Paolo Banchero, who finished the game 3-for-9 from the field with four of those misses coming from beyond the arc. While he has the ability to shoot from long-range, Banchero's ability to drive to the basket is unmatched. The movement away from the three in the second half allowed Duke to pull out the win, scoring 26 paint points compared to the 14 in the first half.
One stat: 1.58 points per possession
For further proof that shot selection was an early issue for Duke in the game, compare the points per possession between the two halves. In the first, misses from three dropped Duke’s points per possession to 1.06, but it managed an improved 1.58 points per possession in the second half. The field goal percentage also took a huge jump, going from 36.1% to 61.3%. And finally, Duke went from five free throws in the first half to 13 in the second.
All of this goes to show one major thing: attack the basket. Yes, Duke has a deep list of quality shooters that should be found open beyond the arc. Yet, they have some elite slashers that can get into the paint for higher percentage shots, as well as the added bonus of drawing more fouls, which can both slow down the game and put opponents in foul trouble. The stats and the eye test both indicate that attacking the paint leads to consistent success for this Duke team.
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