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Lively debuts as Duke men's basketball earns runaway win against USC Upstate

Duke moved to 2-0 Friday night with a runaway win at home against USC Upstate.
Duke moved to 2-0 Friday night with a runaway win at home against USC Upstate.

In Cameron Indoor Stadium, everyone eats. 

For the first time in program history, the Blue Devils took on USC Upstate. After a sloppy start, Duke rocketed to a 25-point halftime lead and never looked back, downing the Spartans 84-38 off of a full-team effort with a Hollywood flair.

"We just have a lot of fun out there—I think that’s the biggest thing that we do. We have a lot of fun, a lot of smiles. Guys are not out there not smiling, not having fun. That’s the point of basketball–you gotta have fun,” junior guard and team captain Jeremy Roach said for GoDuke.com.

It took more than three minutes for Duke (2-0) to get on the board. After a wayward tipoff went flying, back-to-back Spartan steals had the Blue Devils down 4-0, and they would turn the ball over one more time before Roach finally broke open the scoring for Duke with a three. Duke did not slow down after that, scoring 14 unanswered points and holding USC Upstate (1-1) scoreless for nearly six minutes. 

In that span, freshman center Dereck Lively II took the floor for his first turn in a Duke uniform after missing the season opener with a calf injury. Two slam dunks later—the latter of which was made possible by a block from 6-foot-2 Jaylen Blakes on the other side of the floor—the crowd was rocking and Lively was cooking. The No. 2 Class of 2022 recruit played 15 minutes off the bench, logging four points and two rebounds. He also swatted away two shots, delivering on his rim-protector billing.

"You can't look at his numbers when you're judging Dereck Lively. He does so much. He's just a presence on the floor," head coach Jon Scheyer said in his press conference after the game. "As a guard, when you're driving and he's on defense, you know he's there. And he'll continue to block more shots, and the job he did in pick-and-roll defense—He's just gonna get better and better and better as this whole season goes on."

However, after limping and calling for a sub with under a minute left in the first half, it looked like he might not play again. Though he re-entered the game four minutes into the second, Duke flexed its depth in the meantime. Scheyer played eight men for most of the game, and all contributed in some way. 

A few minutes into the second half, freshman forward Mark Mitchell, continuing a show-stopping game, sank an alley-oop dunk from a Roach inbound, his second slam of the night. A few minutes later, freshman guard Kyle Filipowski broke free for an Air Jordan-style dunk. In all, Duke got a staggering 14% of its points from dunks, helped by 15 team steals, a testament to the suffocating defense to which it subjected the Spartans.

"I thought Jacob Grandison and Jaylen Blakes, the energy that they brought, the defensive intensity, I thought they really sparked us and, really from there we were off and running," Scheyer said.

In fact, the Blue Devils held USC Upstate scoreless for the first 5:28 of the second half. Mostly playing man-to-man, Duke gave the Spartans no breathing room, forcing the Spartans to take ugly shots with time expiring multiple times. It did not help that on the other side of the floor, USC Upstate could not slow the Blue Devils and had to resort to fouling, sending Duke into the bonus with 12:22 left in the game.

Just before Blakes made his free throw on the Spartans’ seventh foul of the half, freshman guard Jaden Schutt entered the game for the first time and sunk the first 3-pointer of his career on an open look. Scheyer worked in more of the roster after that, and eventually, 14 total Blue Devils saw the court, with 11 of those getting on the scoreboard. Fan-favorite junior walk-on Spencer Hubbard even saw some action—a career-high five minutes to be exact—along with fellow walk-on Stanley Borden.

"I'm not sure if it's gonna be 14 every night or Tuesday," Scheyer said with a laugh. "I think our depth ... goes back when, if you saw us practice, it's different guys each day. We have competitive practices, [so] when you come out in a game, more than just five players are ready to step up, and I think we're gonna have a group where we can go a little bit deeper."

Aside from Blakes and Lively, graduate transfer center Ryan Young and Filipowski each registered a block, alongside freshman Jaden Schutt and graduate transfer Kale Catchings. With Lively playing limited minutes still, the Young and Filipowski played a big role in the paint for the Blue Devils. Young finished with 11 points, most all via his unique touch in the post. Meanwhile, while Filipowski struggled somewhat from the floor with 4-for-11 shooting, he drew fouls like flies to a lightbulb, going to the charity stripe more than any other Blue Devil and finishing 7-for-8 from the line. It resulted in his second double-double in as many games, with team-highs of 10 rebounds and 15 points. 

Though new faces made the flashiest plays of the game, veterans Roach and Blakes were quietly the stars of the show. Roach was all over the floor. Even beyond scoring, though he tallied a respectable 10 points, the junior logged a team-leading seven assists and two steals and commanded the floor. Meanwhile, Blakes looked much improved from last season and figures to play an important role this season. His first-half block was one of the game’s most exciting plays, and he nearly surpassed his career-high 22 minutes from the Blue Devils’ last game against Jacksonville. 

"[Roach] had six assists in the first half, and the way he was sharing it really sets the table for these other guys. And then of course, his scoring is going to come when we need it," Scheyer said.

Next, Duke faces its biggest challenge of the season to date Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. when it takes on reigning national champion Kansas in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.


Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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