The independent news organization of Duke University

FLIP THE SCRIPT: Filipowski's career night pushes Duke men's basketball to comeback win against Pittsburgh

Kyle Filipowski's career night was ultimately too much for the Panthers to handle.
Kyle Filipowski's career night was ultimately too much for the Panthers to handle.

Over the years, Cameron Indoor Stadium has played host to more than a few outstanding individual performances. Wednesday evening, one Duke freshman put forth an effort worthy of joining the conversation.

Faced with an 11-point halftime deficit against a sturdy Pittsburgh team, No. 24 Duke answered the call, mounting and completing a thrilling second-half comeback behind Kyle Filipowski’s sparkling night. The seven-foot freshman logged his seventh double-double with 15 rebounds and a career-high 28 points, playing an outsized role as the Blue Devils flipped the script late and never looked back, eventually coming out winners 77-69 on their home floor. 

"We just gotta build off this now," Filipowski said after the game. "We know how great of a team we can be. We know we still have a lot better things to do as well … this is just a little sneak peek of the potential we have and how good all of us can be."

In the second half, Filipowski picked up where he left off after the first period, opening the scoring for Duke (13-4, 4-2 in the ACC) with a two-handed slam over an oncoming defender. Pittsburgh (11-6, 4-2) remained unflinching, keeping the Blue Devils at an arm’s length as the half went on, but Filipowski persisted. With under 13 minutes to play, his lunging finish in transition cut the Panthers’ lead to 52-47 and gave him a new career-high with 21 points after completing the hoop and harm at the free throw line.

That marked the beginning of a stirring second-half effort for the Blue Devils. Freshman guard Tyrese Proctor scored the game’s next bucket, finishing another and-one to cut the Pittsburgh lead to 52-50 and sending the Cameron Indoor crowd into a frenzy before freshman center Dereck Lively II went to the glass to make it a tie game. With just more than 10 minutes left in regulation, Duke was suddenly right back in a contest that, just minutes before, had been threatening to slip away from them.

It was all Blue Devils from there. Freshman forward Mark Mitchell gave head coach Jon Scheyer's team the lead for the first time since the opening minutes, and Filipowski capped off Duke’s go-ahead burst with another two-handed slam just moments later, forcing a Pittsburgh timeout with the Blue Devils up 56-52 and firmly in control. 

Whatever momentum the Panthers had before that, it was gone in a flash following what ultimately wound up as a 15-0 Duke run—Pittsburgh never retook the lead, and the Blue Devils led by as many as 11 points before the final buzzer sounded.

"[Filipowski] was great tonight," Scheyer said. "He hasn’t played as well, and he’s been a difference-maker for us when he’s at his peak. It’s a game-changer. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense. ... Just his determination on the boards. To have 15 rebounds against them—they've been right there, statistically, rebounding with other teams—for [Filipowski] to do that against a veteran team like them is a big deal."

The first half Wednesday belonged to the visitors, as the Panthers threatened to run away multiple times in the first 20 minutes. Halfway through the first period, Pittsburgh had pieced together a 13-2 run and stretched its lead to 26-14 behind strong play from explosive graduate student Jamarius Burton (nine first-half points) and redshirt senior Nike Sibande in the backcourt.

Despite the early deficit, the Blue Devils responded with a 9-2 run of their own and closed the gap to a single score at 34-32 on Lively’s bucket with less than four minutes left in the half. That was the end of Duke’s early comeback bid, though: The Panthers tightened up on the defensive end from that point on, holding the Blue Devils scoreless until halftime and scoring the next nine points to take a 43-32 lead into the locker room.

Turnovers were the story of the first half for both sides. Duke committed 12 turnovers to Pittsburgh’s eight, but the Panthers came out cleaner after an overall sloppy half of play.

"I think what's exciting about this is, we had some things that didn't go our way," Scheyer said. "They hit some tough shots, obviously we were careless with the ball in the first half, and so to come out of this during a game. ... I just thought we showed a tremendous amount of heart and learned a lot about ourselves tonight."

While Pittsburgh controlled the majority of the first half, Filipowski came out of the gates strong for the Blue Devils, tallying a game-high 12 points in the first 20 minutes. The Westtown, N.Y., native has made a habit of strong second halves during his first season in Durham, but his early play—which included his first made 3-pointer since Duke’s Dec. 6 win against Iowa at Madison Square Garden—prevented matters from further slipping away from the Blue Devils before the break.

With junior captain and starting point guard Jeremy Roach out for his second consecutive game with a reaggravated toe injury, the freshman duo of Proctor and Dariq Whitehead made up the starting backcourt for the home team. Proctor made an immediate impact, nailing a wing 3-pointer to put the Blue Devils up 5-2 and showing some early emotion. His hot start was short-lived, however, as the Australian rookie exited after picking up two personal fouls in the first five minutes.

"Obviously, [Filipowski] was a monster on the glass," Pittsburgh head coach Jeff Capel, a former Duke standout himself, said. "He’s very, very talented. I saw him a lot in high school, but he's gotten so much better since he's been here. And tonight, he was the best player on the floor."

Filipowski was the star of the show Wednesday, but it took a number of strong performances for Duke to emerge victorious. Graduate center Ryan Young posted seven points and 10 rebounds, including seven offensive boards as the Blue Devils together romped to a season-high 24 offensive rebounds. The Panthers collected 28 rebounds overall.

Proctor added 14 points and five assists in 27 minutes and Mitchell flirted with a double-double, collecting 10 points and nine rebounds.

"To be a freshman in this game, and have five assists and no turnovers is a big deal for us," Scheyer said of Proctor's play. "As a team, 13 [assists] and 17 [turnovers] isn't good enough, but for Tyrese, he just got us under control. And we're gonna need him to continue to do that, even when Jeremy [Roach] comes back."

Before the game, Cameron Indoor observed a moment of silence in honor of Blue Devil trailblazer Al Buehler, who coached cross country and track and field at Duke for 45 years from 1955-2000 and died Jan. 5 at 92 years old. Scheyer took a moment of his own to speak on his own experience with Buehler before delivering an opening statement after the game.

"Before I talk about this game, I just want to send my love and thoughts to Al Buehler and his family," Scheyer said. "I had a class my freshman year with Al and I remember his office, in the corner of Cameron, and we'd talk all sports. He'd obviously tell me about his history, but we talked the game of basketball. He was a great man, a great person for Duke University. My thoughts are with him and his family."

The schedule gets no easier for the Blue Devils, who next head to Clemson for a 5 p.m. Saturday matchup. The Tigers are off to a 6-0 start in the ACC for the first time in program history, while Scheyer expects Duke to be without its point guard for another game.

"Unless something crazy changes, [Roach] won’t be available for Saturday, either," Scheyer said. "We want to make sure that he's back 100% before he comes back."

Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


Share and discuss “FLIP THE SCRIPT: Filipowski's career night pushes Duke men's basketball to comeback win against Pittsburgh” on social media.