After each Duke men’s basketball game this season, check back here for the Player of the Game and more. The Blue Devils got their revenge against North Carolina Saturday, and the Blue Zone breaks down the contest:
One player: Dereck Lively II
After a slow start to the season while recovering from injury, the No. 2 overall recruit has come alive in the last few weeks. While he only scored two baskets against North Carolina Saturday night, both were thunderous putback dunks that got the Cameron Crazies rocking—and while his offensive production was low, in the lowest-scoring rivalry matchup since 1979, that did not matter. Lively finished the game with eight blocks, the most memorable of which came late in the match against junior guard Caleb Love, where he swatted the shot attempt into the stands.
He has found himself in foul trouble in some recent matchups, unable to assert his defensive prowess. Because of that, he has only averaged 17.4 minutes per game. Last night, however, he played clean, hard-nosed defense for all 34 of his minutes, shutting down the Tar Heels’ veteran players like senior Armando Bacot. Lively's nine defensive rebounds, well above his average of 2.5 per game, were crucial in stopping North Carolina from getting second-chance opportunities. His five offensive boards, including two in the last two minutes of the game, gave Duke the ability to control play down the stretch and close out a massive win.
One stat: 11 fouls
As painful as it is for Blue Devil fans to think about, last year’s matchups with North Carolina were riddled with foul trouble for Duke's stars. With the Tar Heels returning largely the same group from those games, it was important for the Blue Devils to be able to play a clean game in order to keep their most dominant players in for long as possible. That is exactly what happened. Not a single Duke starter had more than two fouls until freshmen Tyrese Proctor and Kyle Filipowski both smartly used the team's remaining fouls to stall the Tar Heel offense as the clock dropped below 30 seconds.
For North Carolina, on the other hand, its 14 fouls, while not much higher than Duke’s 11, had it playing cautiously down the stretch. Bacot and RJ Davis both finished the game with four fouls, and while both picked up their last late, each of them had to play much less aggressively, allowing Duke to close out strong. Because of this, the Blue Devils were able to hold their opponent to just two points in the last five minutes of the game.
One word: Veterans
If there was ever a doubt about how crucial junior captain Jeremy Roach is to this team’s success, he has once again silenced it. In just his fifth game back from injury, Duke’s veteran point guard played all 40 minutes, scoring 20 points and grabbing seven rebounds, all while playing incredible defense against the Tar Heels’ backcourt. His calming presence and timely buckets reasserted him as a fan favorite and star for the Blue Devils.
With four freshmen in the starting lineup, it was a concern whether or not Duke’s lack of experience against an older team like North Carolina would affect it in such a high-stakes rivalry game. While playing from behind for most of the first half, that notion still plagued many viewers. Would such a young team be able to battle against a Tar Heel group that had already stormed into Cameron Indoor Stadium and won such a huge game last March? But the Blue Devils pulled it off, overcoming whatever nerves they may have entered the game with, shutting down each and every one of North Carolina’s star veterans. In his first Tobacco Road test, head coach Jon Scheyer more than prepared his young group of guys to secure the win.
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