INDIANAPOLIS—It was a battle that Duke could have won. The Blue Devils’ first premier win slipped out of their grasp as the youthful makeup of this year’s team showed its true colors.
In the 2022 edition of the Champions Classic, No. 7 Duke’s first minutes on the floor were nothing if not sloppy. A tightened-up defense, some fortunate breaks and the emergence of Tyrese Proctor, Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively II as key pieces of this team helped Duke come back from down 11 before going up by five ahead of ultimately falling to No. 6 Kansas 69-64 in the final minutes in front of a passionate, tournament-like crowd inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
The fresh, young talent offered by three of the top freshmen in the country helped the Blue Devils stay alive in their first big test of the 2022-23 season—a season that folks are repeatedly reminded is for new beginnings, learning and developing. The surplus of five-stars makes for some difficult decisions for head coach Jon Scheyer in terms of lineups and playing time. But Tuesday night, following a dreadful turnover-filled first half, the freshmen led the charge toward establishing a solid—yet impermanent—Duke lead.
Between 17:06 and 12:00 on the clock in the second half, the Blue Devils equipped a lineup of four first-years including the aforementioned contributors and Mark Mitchell, who has made a strong offensive output a regular occurrence thus far.
Lively swooped in to jam home a missed Roach layup to give Duke its first lead in more than 20 minutes of play. Proctor hit his first-career 3-pointer after starting his season 0-for-7. Filipowski, recently named ACC Freshman of the Week, continued his reliability in both the scoring and rebounding columns with his program-record-setting third-straight double-double at the commencement of his college career.
“They all did something to contribute to winning,” Scheyer said.
The Blue Devils, down 37-32, launched a 15-4 run which had them in the driver’s seat of a game Scheyer prognosticated would be, and remarked was, in fact, defined by runs. After Kansas opened the game up 17-6 and Duke showed it could make it a game without its best basketball of the night, nothing was certain about the Blue Devils’ thin lead despite its new faces demonstrating the very reason they are at Duke in the first place.
Just like that, the youthful Blue Devils—one minute their greatest asset—were undergoing a late second-half dispatching at the hands of a more veteran-led team whose national championship banner in Lawrence, Kan., is still hot off the press.
It quickly became clear to all in attendance at Gainbridge Fieldhouse that the magnitude of inexperience was a major part of the loss, the first of each of their careers—Scheyer’s included.
“I could go through each guy that made winning plays tonight, just it wasn't good enough,” Scheyer said. “And that's the bottom line.”
For Filipowski, who accomplished quite the feat by grabbing 14 rebounds—six offensive—along with 17 points to add to Duke’s scoring totals and keep possessions alive, the stats were far from the focus after the buzzer sounded.
“Obviously, that doesn't really matter much to me right now after the game ending the way it did,” Filipowski said of his filled-up stat line.
But as the Westtown, N.Y., native said, the important things lie outside of the numbers on the stat sheet. While the Blue Devils shot just 14.3% from 3-point range, turned the ball over 18 times and only managed eight assists—each rang alarm bells for Duke Tuesday—the quality of play behind those numbers sums up the kind of outing the Blue Devils had in the game’s final five minutes.
To put it in Indianapolis terms, the engine was faulty from the start but the malfunctions just went unnoticed until the car came lurching toward the finish line, completely out of gas. For Duke, the best runs just roughed up the final lap as Scheyer said his team was deprived of fuel after battling as much as it did.
“I thought also just that level of physicality—thought we got tired too,” Scheyer said. “When you get tired you end up standing…”
With just two-and-a-half minutes to play, Kansas freshman Gradey Dick drained a 3-pointer from the wing on a fast break that began when Mitchell dribbled the ball off his leg. Filipowski sagged off the sharpshooter, who made Duke pay. After Roach matched Dick with a 3-pointer of his own, Proctor and Lively got caught by a back-door cut from Dick to finish an alley-oop that gave Kansas a 63-62 lead it would never give up. Less than a minute later, the freshman burst past the overzealous Jaylen Blakes to bring the Jayhawk lead to five.
Dick alone scored seven points in 1:18 while Duke managed five points over the game’s final 4:37. The younger players' defensive efforts were not enough to match the dynamic offense Kansas mustered when it mattered most. The Blue Devils will surely enjoy seeing some improvement before more than likely taking on three tough power-conference opponents in a four-day span at the Phil Knight Legacy tournament in Portland, Ore., in just a week.
“You have to hate it and learn from it, grow from it, but playing the Champions Classic every year, of course you want to come away as winning but you probably learn more when you lose,” Scheyer said. “Even if we won that game, we would have won not being at our best with the way we took care of the ball and some of the plays we can make and do a better job of.”
The Blue Devils next head back home to Durham for a Friday night matchup against Delaware.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.