EAGLES GROUNDED: Roach, Duke men's basketball race past Oral Roberts to open NCAA tournament

Jeremy Roach, who tied a career-high with 23 points Thursday, drives to the rim against Oral Roberts.
Jeremy Roach, who tied a career-high with 23 points Thursday, drives to the rim against Oral Roberts.

ORLANDO, Fla.—In the eight minutes and change it took Oral Roberts to score a point Thursday evening, you could have listened to almost all of Don McLean’s 1971 single American Pie, the longest song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 until Taylor Swift’s All Too Well (10 Minute Version) in 2021.

In that time, the Blue Devils had amassed not only 15 points, but two blocks and 13 rebounds in an absolute domination of their opponent. That didn’t end once the Golden Eagles finally grabbed a bucket, either. In the opening round of the NCAA tournament at the Amway Center in Orlando, the fifth-seeded Blue Devils coasted through 40 minutes of play to rout No. 12-seed Oral Roberts 74-51 thanks to a prolific day from junior captain Jeremy Roach.

"It's money time right here," Roach said. "[I'm] just playing with an all-time confidence right now. When the sense of urgency is at an all-time high, then that's when you really lock in. Every possession matters, every bucket matters. So, that's what I tried to do, prepare myself mentally and physically."

While the first half was a group effort, the hot hands of freshman Dariq Whitehead and Roach alone outscored the entirety of Oral Roberts for much of the period, leading Duke to a 40-23 halftime lead. The two combined for 23 points by the end of the half — matching the Golden Eagles — with nine of those coming from beyond the arc. 

Through the opening four minutes, the wheels on the Golden Eagle bus were clearly a little loose but hadn’t fallen off completely, with the Blue Devils leading 8-0 thanks to some quick scores in the paint. That was until Roach drilled a three to put Duke up 11-0 and hammer the first nail into Oral Roberts’ coffin. Head coach Paul Mills immediately called timeout to try to inject some life into his team, but to little avail. Roach tied a career-high with 23 points by the game’s end, including 13 in the first half, on 9-of-17 shooting.

"Jeremy has been on a tear. For me, it's more just his mindset," head coach Jon Scheyer said after the game. "That's what I expected from him, and it's what I think he wants me to expect from him. But really proud of what he's done, and just leading the way for us."

Not much happened between Oral Roberts’ timeout and the next stoppage under a minute later, but after that, the Golden Eagles let Kyle Filipowski pickpocket them three times in four possessions before fouling Roach on a layup attempt. The Leesburg, Va., native sank both free throws, and after a Patrick Mwamba three rimmed out, newly subbed-in graduate center Ryan Young made quick work of Mwamba under the basket for a layup. 

Only after all of that could Oral Roberts score thanks to a nifty feed from star Max Abmas to DeShang Weaver. Enter Whitehead. The freshman came off the bench and scored 10 first-half points, first easing his way through the lane and then hitting two triples, including one racing in from the wing to the top of the key. With just more than five minutes left in the frame, Whitehead capitalized on one of Duke’s 13 total offensive rebounds for a second-chance jumper. 

"Coming into the game, a lot of guys before told me to be confident just like Jeremy, who's our captain. He told me to come in and be confident, so that's what I did," Whitehead said.

It’s hard to argue that any one factor decided the game’s outcome, but how handily the Blue Devils won the battle on the glass certainly comes close. Duke outrebounded the Golden Eagles 46-32, led by 12 from Dereck Lively II, in spite of 7-foot-5 Connor Vanover waiting in the paint. This only compounded Oral Roberts’ dire shooting woes. 

If you are going to shoot 30% from the field, you better at least have more opportunities than your opponent. But because the Blue Devils stifled the Golden Eagles on their own glass with 33 defensive rebounds, on most possessions, Oral Roberts could only miss a shot and try to get back on defense as fast as possible. 

"You just got to value each possession, you got to value the ball, you got to value each shot. That's something that's going to matter to us a lot in this March Madness, being able to make sure that we stop possessions and we finish possessions to get our offense going," Lively said. "I've been able to make sure I'm either tipping the ball out, making the rebound hard for them or getting the rebound myself, and making sure that we can get out and get a run."

For about three minutes, that changed. Midway through the second half, the Golden Eagles strung together a desperation 11-0 run, cutting Duke’s lead to 14 in the process. Freshman Tyrese Proctor cut the Golden Eagles’ comeback hopes short, though, as he sank a wide open wing three to end their run and keep the Blue Devils easily on top 57-40.

Next, the Blue Devils will take on either No. 4-seed Tennessee or No. 13-seed Louisiana Saturday with a trip to New York for the Sweet 16 on the line.

Sasha Richie profile
Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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