X-Factor: Blakes' breakout performances suggest he will be key for Duke men's basketball against N.C. State

Jaylen Blakes scored 17 points against both Wake Forest and Florida State.
Jaylen Blakes scored 17 points against both Wake Forest and Florida State.

After winning its last game of 2022 against Florida State, Duke will open the new year with a matchup on the road against local foe N.C. State. Before the contest Wednesday, the Blue Zone analyzes a player from both team's capable of leading their squad to victory:

Duke: Jaylen Blakes

At the beginning of the season, few could predict that sophomore guard Jaylen Blakes would be a key cog in head coach Jon Scheyer’s Blue Devil machine. Yet in many of the games he has played in, the sophomore has proven he deserves his time in the limelight. Starting out as a bench player, Blakes' tenacity and determination on defense have made him a valuable asset. When Scheyer needed to light a fire for his team, he turned to the Somerset, N.J., native again and again to ignite Duke's defensive prowess.

Offensively, Blakes’ game has grown tremendously since his freshman campaign. He currently averages 6.1 points, 1.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, a big step up from his stat line last year. His ability to play on an elite level is reflected in his increase in playing time, as he now averages 19.4 minutes a game compared to his 4.5-minute average as a freshman.

However, the greatest indication that Blakes is quickly becoming a mainstay for Duke lies in his past two outings. In the Blue Devils' recent game against Wake Forest, which was otherwise disappointing for the team, ending in an 81-70 upset, the sophomore led the way with 17 points and only missed one basket. His incredible performance earned him his first career start against Florida State Saturday, when he made the most of his time on the floor. Scoring 17 points once more, Blakes was only second to graduate student center Ryan Young in terms of baskets tallied. He notched four 3-pointers along the way, as well as three assists and one steal. 

The sophomore guard may not be the flashiest player, but he has the relentless work ethic and skill required to be a Duke great. The Blue Devils will need his burgeoning offensive game and aggressive defense to keep N.C. State at bay. Even if he goes back to his supporting role as a bench player, he still has the potential to come into games and make a big impact. 

N.C. State: Terquavion Smith

Sophomore guard Terquavion Smith is continuing to make a name for himself in college basketball after a powerful freshman year. In his first 15 games alone, the Greenville, N.C., native has averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game. The definition of a sharp-shooter, Smith is lethal from any range, and is a big contributor to the Wolfpack offense. Defensively, he’s just as much of a problem. With 27 steals on the season already, the 6-foot-4 guard’s agility and quick reflexes allow him to interfere with passing lanes and pressure teams into coughing up the rock.

If last season is any indication, Smith is well on his way to becoming one of the best players on the national scene. Named to the All-ACC Rookie Team last year, he also earned an honorable mention for the All-ACC team while notching four ACC Freshman of the Week honors. Along the way, he made program history in several categories, including most 3-pointers by a freshman with 96.

Smith has shown he is one of the top talents in the ACC. During his first season with N.C. State, his 3-pointer average led the league, the first freshman to do so since Duke’s J.J. Redick. His season-best 34 points against North Carolina were the most scored in a game by any single player in ACC play over the course of the 2021-22 season. He also had the second-best scoring average among ACC freshmen with 16.3 points per game. 

Smith will likely be the key to a potential Wolfpack victory, so it will be crucial for the Blue Devils to shut him down and limit his production, particularly by keeping him from hitting long-range shots. If the guard is out of commission, Duke can walk out of the building with a victory.

Mackenzie Sheehy profile
Mackenzie Sheehy | Blue Zone editor

Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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