In Wednesday’s 81-72 win, the Blue Devils demonstrated heightened physicality against a team that exudes toughness.
A year ago Wednesday on Ohio State’s home court, the Blue Devils rode a 13-point halftime lead into the second half, during which Buckeye forward Zed Key and company managed to get Paolo Banchero, Mark Williams and Wendell Moore Jr. each into foul trouble en route to a five-point win against the nation’s No. 1 team.
The 2022 edition of the testy ACC/Big Ten Challenge brought out all the fight from both teams—with Key’s performance the bright spot again for head coach Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes. But after learning some hard truths about its identity in Portland, Ore., in the Thanksgiving-week Phil Knight Legacy—perhaps more than the Blue Devils wanted—No. 17 Duke came to play in front of a raucous home crowd in its first ranked matchup in front of its home fans since a similarly gutsy win against Florida State in February 2020.
It had been a while since the Cameron Crazies witnessed as high-stakes a win as they saw Wednesday, as the two-loss Blue Devils, who displayed dismal offense and got flat-out beat by Purdue, rebounded by harnessing their best attributes to take down No. 25 Ohio State.
“I think this preparation has been incredible … I think it’s prepared us well for the rest of this year,” head coach Jon Scheyer said. “We play different kinds of teams like Ohio State, they're physical like Purdue, but it's a different kind of team. … I think the more games we're in like this, the better we'll be down the stretch.”
And with strong performances from the usual suspects—junior guard Jeremy Roach scored 13 points and freshman forward Kyle Filipowski fell a couple of rebounds shy of a fifth double-double—the Blue Devils were able to recalibrate to finish off their Big Ten battle in style. The delightful surprises of the night were two other bigs, freshman Dereck Lively II and graduate Ryan Young, plus an aggressive inside-out approach that set the tone down the stretch.
Lively, in 18 minutes on the floor, again battled down low defensively, which led him to pick up four fouls while blocking two shots and disturbing plenty more after fouling out Sunday. Along the way, he more than doubled his season-high for scoring; his 11 points gave Duke a boost with his dunks, and he connected on three free throws as he towered over the smaller Ohio State lineup.
His and-one with 15:55 to play led to the largest Blue Devil lead of the night.
“I just love the mindset, how he keeps working,” Scheyer said. “I thought the way he fought on defense in the Purdue game took a huge step. And then tonight, he did the same thing against Key.
“One of the best things he does is he puts pressure on the rim in the pick-and-roll … That's something we need to look for more.”
Young had his own compliments for his younger frontcourt-mate, whom he has been working with to develop his inside game and physicality: “There's a lot of things that Dereck does that I can't do. … I feel like it's ‘iron sharpens iron’ in practice. And then when the game time comes, it's a problem for the opposition.”
After going up against Purdue’s seemingly unbeatable Zach Edey and getting out-rebounded by 11, the Blue Devils made some of the game’s most crucial plays on the offensive glass. As the nation’s third-best in offensive rebounds per game entering Wednesday’s affair, Duke’s bigs went at it down low with no play bigger than Young’s back-bending corral—which Scheyer called “big time”—with a six-point lead and 1:46 to go.
In the midst of a four-game stretch during which the Blue Devils face three of the top Big Ten programs in Purdue, Ohio State and Iowa (Duke faces the Hawkeyes Tuesday), Young (Northwestern) and Jacob Grandison (Illinois) offered combined experience which translated to the second-half mindset Duke brought Wednesday.
Every glimpse of an Ohio State comeback—which triggered memories of last year’s heartbreaking loss—was met with another big play, another big stop.
“I was thinking back to what happened last year,” Roach said.
Scheyer also pointed out that Filipowski, Roach and Tyrese Proctor drew six, six and five fouls, respectively. Another indication of both the Blue Devils capitalizing on their advantages and going after their opponents, the home side attempted and made season-highs in free throws, converting 26-of-30 and 18-of-20 in the second half alone.
“We'll want to learn and adjust to how different teams play us but it was a good step playing to our strengths tonight,” Scheyer said.
With Lively finding a rhythm in the offense, fellow freshman Proctor has also been working his way out of a funk from the floor—he brought a glimmer of light to Duke’s otherwise disastrous performance Sunday and continued to make a difference against the Buckeyes. He connected on two of his three 3-point attempts and did not turn the ball over.
While Duke has made clear its strength lies inside with the consistent play from Young, a strong yet exclusively interior game from the 36.4% 3-point shooter in Filipowski and an emerging threat in Lively, Scheyer wants to remind his team that “we need to play inside and out.”
Having shot 5-for-40 from deep in its two losses, both of its prior tests against ranked opponents, Duke earned its points from beyond the arc with three first-half 3-pointers falling before cutting down on the jumpers, and instead turning attention to the inside while shooting 2-for-3 from deep in the second half. The two makes, one from Proctor and the other from freshman forward Mark Mitchell, fell within 66 seconds of each other and were crucial in staving off whatever comeback Key, Justice Sueing and Sean McNeil could manufacture.
Duke has turned the page by getting back in the win column, and will again turn the page as it prepares for its ACC opener against Boston College Saturday.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.