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OPENING DAY: Duke men's basketball routs Jacksonville in home opener of Scheyer's first season as head coach

Junior captain Jeremy Roach confidently led the Blue Devils to their season-opening win against Jacksonville.
Junior captain Jeremy Roach confidently led the Blue Devils to their season-opening win against Jacksonville.

It was a night of ‘firsts’ in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The first men’s basketball game of the season. The first game for the many freshmen that packed the student section. The first collegiate points scored for four rookie Blue Devils. And of course, the first win in the Jon Scheyer era. 

Duke opened its season without star recruits Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead, and while their absence was felt, the Blue Devils still came out on top 71-44 against Jacksonville. 

"It's great to get that first one under our belts," Scheyer said. "In some ways, it's felt like this has happened quick to play our first game, and in other ways, it's felt like it's taken a long time. I think our guys were just ready to play a game in Cameron, a real game."

Blue Devil captain Jeremy Roach played his role to perfection. He displayed clear leadership on both ends of the floor, helping to pick up his young teammates after mistakes. Above all though, Roach had one of his best offensive nights as a Blue Devil, shooting 6-of-10 from the field on his way to 16 points and four assists. 

"My teammates got me going, the coaching staff, everybody got me going. Just being a junior, you got that confidence now," Roach said. "I think just playing with joy and being happy out there was a big part of it."

The team as a whole had a really solid scoring affair. Duke (1-0) shot 46% from the field and 34% from deep behind another 18 points from freshman talent Mark Mitchell. The five-star recruit seemed to be all over the floor and was by far the most active player on offense—an encouraging sign from Duke’s fourth-highest-ranked freshman.

Roach’s leadership was properly complemented by the veteran presence of Jacob Grandison and Ryan Young. The graduate transfers played 25 minutes and 32 minutes, respectively, and could always be counted on for a bucket when the young guys were struggling. They combined for 14 points and will surely be an integral part of this team all season long. Both men left the court to strong applause from the crowd.

"Having Ryan and J-Roach and Jake on the floor, just having their knowledge and their veteran presence is always just kind of calming," Mitchell explained. "Just knowing they've been there before and that this is not new to them compared to us."

Scheyer’s impact on the game was easily seen through the creative play design the Blue Devils executed on the offensive end. Several times throughout the game Roach hung around at half court to hear a play call from his head coach before running a play that almost always led to an open 3-pointer. 

Although this was not a blowout for most of the game as many expected, just six minutes into the second half, Duke had quietly taken a 22-point lead. The Blue Devils allowed just six points in the first nine minutes of the second half. As a team, the Dolphins shot a measly 3-of-23 from beyond the arc and 34% from the field. Jacksonville’s 44 points matches its season low from last year. 

Duke set the tone early in the form of a Proctor-to-Mitchell lob and slam for the season’s first points. With Cameron Indoor in a frenzy, the season was ready to begin. Mitchell teamed up with Roach to dominate the first few series. The duo scored all 15 of Duke’s first 15 points on their way to a combined 34 points. 

The first half certainly wasn’t the knockout the period-ending 42-26 score may indicate. The Dolphins crawled back every time Duke seemed to pull away, in large part due to Dolphin forward Mike Marsh’s 11 first-half points off the bench. With 6:42 left in the half, Jacksonville was still within three. 

Unfortunately for the Dolphins (0-1), that was no match for Roach’s own 16 first-half points. The Blue Devils scored six more 3-pointers than Jacksonville, allowing them to open up the sizeable lead at the half. 

"They're a good team. They're going to be a tournament team. We wanted to bring the fight to them," Roach said. "We knew they were going to be aggressive and physical with us off the jump, so we wanted to bring the fight to them. I think we did that."

Perhaps the surprise of the game was Jaylen Blakes, who after just playing 94 minutes all of last season, entered seven minutes into the game. He proceeded to hit two 3-pointers, doubling his total from last season, and played some excellent defense, including a wide receiver-esque sideline toe-tap to steal the ball. The sophomore guard finished with eight points and an assist in 21 minutes, perhaps a sign of things to come this year. 

"He's a pitbull. He's a winner. He's a competitor, how he defended, his intensity, and just unselfishness," Scheyer said. "It provided a huge spark for us."

"J-Blakes, he was pitbull tonight," Roach added.

As with any season openers, there were certainly struggles for this young team. Highly touted freshmen Kyle Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor—both of whom started—struggled on the court. They shot just 4-of-8 and 0-of-8 from the field, respectively, and combined for five turnovers, although Filipowski found some comfort towards the end of the contest, finishing with a double-double. The team as a whole also struggled with rebounding at points and seemed to get lost during several of Jacksonville’s offensive sets. 

Luckily for the Blue Devils, this is just the start of a long season, and with more positives than negatives in the bank, there’s no doubt that Duke will be able to get this squad ready for success by ACC play. The Blue Devils will take the court again on Friday against USC Upstate, which should provide Scheyer another good opportunity to refine his team. 

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