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X-Factor: Whitehead must continue to shine defensively as Duke men's basketball takes on Maryland Eastern Shore

Dariq Whitehead scored eight points against Iowa Tuesday night.
Dariq Whitehead scored eight points against Iowa Tuesday night.

After defeating Iowa at Madison Square Garden to notch its ninth win, Duke returns to play at Cameron Indoor Stadium this weekend. Ahead of the Saturday evening showdown against Maryland Eastern Shore, the Blue Zone checks out a player from each side capable of leading their team to victory:

Duke: Dariq Whitehead

Coming off a foot injury, freshman forward Dariq Whitehead was the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2022. But in his return, he struggled to shake off the rust, and the Blue Devil faithful doubted if he would prove to be the talented star he was touted as in the preseason. Yet in Tuesday’s contest against Iowa on the big stage at Madison Square Garden, the Newark, N.J., native showed flashes of potential on both ends of the court. While his season-high eight points on the night might not be particularly impressive, he showed some sharpshooting abilities in contributing to Duke’s offensive chemistry. His real star power, however, came on the defensive end, where he and fellow freshman Mark Mitchell had the unfavorable task of marking the Hawkeyes’ Kris Murray—the current ESPN Men’s Basketball National Player of the Week and Big Ten-Co Player of the Week honoree. Helping limit the Iowa junior to just eight points, Whitehead was key in stifling the Hawkeyes' offensive engine to earn a Blue Devil victory.

The Montverde Academy product reached several other milestones during the contest against Iowa, including new season-highs with three assists, six rebounds and 21 minutes played. His production is not stellar just yet, but his high school career gives hope for how he might develop as the year progresses. The 2022 Naismith Prep Player of the Year winner averaged 16.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals during his senior season, which goes to show he is capable of great output on both ends of the floor.

Even if he takes a while to get his full strength back, Whitehead will become a major contributor for Duke. The regular season might not be his time to shine with teammates like Kyle Filipowski and Mitchell putting up big numbers, but he could very well follow in the footsteps of Jeremy Roach and prove himself a crucial March Madness asset. Saturday’s matchup against Maryland Eastern Shore is the perfect opportunity for the freshman to gain more confidence in a low-pressure setting. In games in which the Blue Devils are favored, Whitehead can shake off the rust and hone his skills to be sharp for tougher opponents down the road. If the 6-foot-7 player can show more flashes of his full potential, he will be a big contributor to a Duke win. 

Maryland Eastern Shore: Da’Shawn Phillip

Though he is not the Hawks' leading scorer, senior guard Da’Shawn Phillip has the potential to threaten the Blue Devils on both ends of the court. Averaging 9.8 points and 1.4 treys a game, Phillip will be a key player in the Hawks' production. On the defensive side, the Baltimore, Md., native looks to disrupt the Duke offense with his 0.4 blocks per game.

If his junior season is any indication, Phillip is Maryland Eastern Shore's anchor. As the only Hawks player to start all 27 games, he made major contributions with 247 total points, 47 steals and 84 assists on the year. The senior was top-10 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in steals and assists per game, averaging 1.7 and 3.1, respectively. Scoring double digits in 12 games last season, Maryland Eastern Shore will turn to him for leadership on the offensive end of the court.

While Phillip is unlikely to pose that much of a problem against the Blue Devils, head coach Jon Scheyer’s squad should stay wary of overconfidence going into the contest. If they open the door for the Hawks' key players, such as the 6-foot-5 senior, they could find themselves in a much closer game than they bargained for. 

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