INDIANAPOLIS—After a delayed start and a sluggish opening few minutes, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils cut into the sixth-ranked Jayhawks’ early lead before halftime at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. With 20 minutes to play in this Champions Classic matchup, Duke trails 33-29.
Battle of the Champions
In their fourth meeting in the Champions Classic, the Blue Devils and defending national champion Jayhawks dueled in a physical first half—the Blue Devils trail the series at the early-season event 2-1. Duke took a bit longer than Kansas to settle into its offense as the Jayhawks went on an early 14-2 run to create separation with a 17-6 lead. Head coach Jon Scheyer’s squad dug into its bench with the likes of Dereck Lively II, Jaylen Blakes and Jacob Grandison to try to help stabilize the offense and gnaw into the initial deficit.
The early portion of the game was defined by poor shooting by the Blue Devils; Duke started the night shooting 31.3% with multiple layups off of drives into the paint falling short and threes by both Kyle Filipowski and Grandison missing just about everything with the team also shooting 1-for-11 from deep. The Blue Devils were unable to string together successful offensive possessions but Kansas caught the same bug, keeping Duke alive in a sloppy half of basketball. Junior captain Jeremy Roach looked to establish himself as the leader of the offense but his teammates weren’t helping him out with their 6-for-23 shooting—a technical foul was charged to Tyrese Proctor for flopping as Duke continued looking for points in any way possible.
Assists and turnovers
Duke was not only sloppy with its shooting, but also could not get as many shots as it wanted thanks to six offensive fouls when trying to run the floor in transition. The Blue Devils accumulated 11 turnovers which led to eight Kansas points. The offense’s struggles included the lack of clean ball movement and two assists to Kansas’ 11. A run with under six minutes to go saw neither team seemingly able to complete a pass as the half’s total turnover count skyrocketed to 21.
Despite the lack of a consistent style of play over the course of the game’s opening 20 minutes—from both teams—the Blue Devils turned up the heat defensively and scored at just the right times to keep the game within reach. After once trailing 19-8, Duke went on a quiet 17-8 run near the close of the half to help develop some momentum and help Scheyer’s squad start anew after the break.
Player of the half: Kevin McCullar Jr.
The Texas Tech transfer saw plenty of the Blue Devils when the teams battled for a spot in the Elite Eight of the 2022 NCAA tournament, and then again when he took the lead for Kansas in the first half. He brought physical defense and was the best 3-point shooter on the floor, helping Kansas along its big early run and set the tone for the kind of night Duke was going to have against his Jayhawks. He was only surpassed as the game’s leading scorer when Roach hit his and-one free throw to bring Duke within a single possession with 3:39 to go, after which his teammate Jalen Wilson reached the 10-point mark first.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.