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Three points: Duke men's basketball must restrict Edey, start out strong against Purdue

<p>Mark Mitchell scored a career-high 18 points against Jacksonville in Duke's season opener.</p>

Mark Mitchell scored a career-high 18 points against Jacksonville in Duke's season opener.

Duke takes on No. 24 Purdue in the Phil Knight Legacy championship for its second ranked contest this season. Before tipoff at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Portland, Ore., the Blue Zone has three crucial points for a Blue Devil victory:

Stop Zach Edey

Freshman centers Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively II may be the tallest players on this Blue Devil roster, but they both fall into the shadow of Purdue junior center Zach Edey, who stands at 7-foot-4. Beyond his height, the Toronto native has talent—in Purdue’s Phil Knight Legacy semifinal matchup against No. 6 Gonzaga, the Canadian force of nature dominated the scoreboard, blocking three Bulldog shots and putting up 23 points of his own in 31 minutes of play.

Not a single one of Edey’s points Friday came from outside the arc, meaning the Blue Devil defense will have to figure out how to block his shots while avoiding fouls. But that is a tall task considering that the Boilermakers have made a steady 77.6 percent of their shots from the charity stripe this season. If Duke’s last two games are any indication for Sunday, the Blue Devils are certainly not in a position to let the score be dominated by free throws.

What may be toughest for Duke’s defense is Edey’s tendency to dunk. Against Gonzaga, he boasted six dunks, which comprised a majority of his points. Lively and Filipowski can certainly stop a shot—the two of them are currently tied with eight blocks. But this rookie duo must be careful, as fouling out won’t be an option if head coach Jon Scheyer wants to take home his first tournament trophy.

Play the first half

It seems that Scheyer knows how to deliver a locker room speech. In its seven games this season, Duke has established itself as a second-half team as, time after time, unranked nonconference teams lag just a few points behind the Blue Devils at the half, only to be knocked out cold by a blast of baskets in the second 20 minutes of the game.

In a championship game, however, this tendency just won’t cut it. Purdue played with unstoppable energy in its second half against Gonzaga, scoring 51 of its total 84 points for the night while only allowing 38 added points from the Bulldogs. Given what is on the line for the Boilermakers—an undefeated record, a Phil Knight Legacy title and a chance to beat the eighth-ranked team in the country—it is unlikely that their energy levels will yield for Duke to display its now-characteristic comeback move. If all goes well for the Blue Devils, they will find their footing against Purdue in the first few minutes of play and keep up a lead from the get-go to avoid reliance on a last-minute magic trick.

Big production day for Mitchell

Freshman forward Mark Mitchell is a powerful player. In Duke’s season opener against Jacksonville, he led the team in baskets, starting his first collegiate game with an impressive 18 points. Against USC Upstate, Duke’s second matchup of this year, he played much the same, scoring 13 points while totaling three assists and seven rebounds. The Kansas City, Kan., native was on fire. 

Mitchell’s play, however, soon turned down an uncertain path. The 6-foot-8 forward put just seven points on the board against Kansas and struggled against Oregon State, seeing just 11 minutes against the Beavers.

But in Friday’s game against Xavier, Mitchell came back to life, seemingly revived into the powerhouse of a starter he had been in his first few games. He got 16 points for his team—second only to captain Jeremy Roach—helping the Blue Devils round off their seven-point win against the Musketeers and earning his place on the Phil Knight Legacy court.

From his unpredictable play so far this season, Mitchell has proven himself a player who either takes charge on the court or simply doesn’t. His point total can make or break a Duke game. If this rookie forward can ride the wave of momentum that he caught Friday, his points could be the advantage that pushes the Blue Devils over the edge against Purdue Sunday afternoon.

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