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'We handled our business': Duke men's basketball leans on bench scoring to overwhelm Florida State

From left to right: Jaylen Blakes, Mark Mitchell, Ryan Young and Jeremy Roach in Duke's win over Florida State.
From left to right: Jaylen Blakes, Mark Mitchell, Ryan Young and Jeremy Roach in Duke's win over Florida State.

Coming off of a flat performance in a loss in its ACC road opener against Wake Forest, No. 17 Duke needed to respond in a big way in its last game of the calendar year. In a matchup against Florida State, it did just that, prevailing 86-67

The Blue Devils utilized their signature strategy of tough defense and capitalizing on offensive rebounds, two things they struggled with last time out in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Blue Devils forced 13 turnovers and turned 10 offensive boards into 13 second-chance points, a solid recipe for success in conference play. 

To this point in the season, Duke has consistently relied on the same players to come through in big moments, most often junior guard Jeremy Roach and 7-foot freshman Kyle Filipowski. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, neither player brought their A-game Saturday, with Roach still battling his nagging toe injury and Filipowski struggling to find his footing so far in ACC play.

However, head coach Jon Scheyer has shown that he is not afraid to use his depth extensively, and that move paid off in bunches Saturday. Duke had 46 bench points to Florida State’s eight, a stat that perfectly exemplifies the potential that Scheyer can unleash with a variety of different lineups. Two players that were largely underlooked before the beginning of the season, sophomore guard Jaylen Blakes and graduate center Ryan Young, were the catalysts for success in the win.

“No matter if you're starting, coming off the bench, that's something we talked a lot about in our depth is still a strength of ours,” Scheyer said after the game. “You can play nine guys and, you know, played a lot of them extended minutes.”

After the Wake Forest game in which he poured in a career-high 17 points, Blakes was thrust into the starting lineup Saturday for the first time in his Duke career and proved that he belongs in the first five. Blakes took over the game in the early going, scoring Duke’s first five points, a portion of his 17 total to match his career-high. 

In addition to his trademark tenacity on the defensive end, Blakes seems as if he is unlocking some untapped potential on offense. In particular, the sophomore guard has been getting it done at a high clip from beyond the arc, going 4-of-6 in a game in which the rest of the team struggled from downtown. It is evident that during the offseason and throughout the extended breaks during December, Blakes has worked on his game, and Scheyer has obviously recognized this and rewarded him. It remains to be determined if Blakes will continue to start, but it is evident that his role on this year’s team is growing by the day.

“Really proud of what he's done,” Scheyer said of Blakes. “You know, he's coming off a year he didn't play. He's been in different environments. And he's just grown. And he is as hard of a worker that we have. He studies game plans like you wouldn't believe and I’m just proud and happy for him.”

In a year in which Duke brought in a top recruiting class headlined by the two top-rated big men in the nation, Dereck Lively II and Filipowski, it was a graduate transfer who dominated the post Saturday for the Blue Devils. Young turned in his best performance as a Blue Devil, and one of the team’s more impressive performances in recent memory. Everything Young touched was gold, as he was a perfect 7-of-7 from the field and 6-of-6 from the charity stripe, ending the day with 20 points. 

Young also pulled down 12 rebounds, an aspect of his game that has been most valuable to this Duke team. Five of these rebounds came on the offensive glass, a category Duke is among the best in the country in. Young’s attention to the boards almost certainly came as a result of the rebounding struggles against Wake Forest, something the team evidently focused on after Christmas.

“Defensive rebounding has to be something we hang our hat on and I'm glad that we bounced back the way we did,” Young said. “I think we handled our business.”

“You know, I'm sure I'll find something that he could have done better,” Scheyer said when asked whether he would call Young’s performance perfect. “But it was pretty close.”

Another cog to the Duke machine who has not necessarily put up gaudy numbers thus far is Dariq Whitehead. The freshman forward battled a preseason injury, but is starting to hit his stride. He has turned in career-high scoring nights in back-to-back games, putting up 16 Saturday in an offensive display that showcased the elite driving ability and shooting prowess that had coaches all over the country pursuing him out of high school. 

Unfortunately for Whitehead, he did not get to fully maximize his December after missing multiple practices and the Wake Forest game due to an illness. However, these offensive outbursts were only a matter of time for the uber-talented guard.

It is clear that Whitehead’s confidence is building, and Duke could greatly use his improved play. “I kind of felt it coming,” Whitehead said.

Duke’s depth showed out in its last game of 2022, painting an even more promising picture for the rest of the season. Blakes, Young and Whitehead will likely continue to see their minutes grow if they keep up their current level of play, making an already potent team even more dangerous.

The Blue Devils now look to carry the momentum from Saturday’s win into the new year. When asked about his New Year’s resolution, Blakes said, “Win a national championship.”


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