After each Duke men's basketball game this season, check back here for the Player of the Game and more. The Blue Devils breezed past Oral Roberts in the first round of the NCAA tournament 74-51, and the Blue Zone breaks down the contest:
One player: Jeremy Roach
On a team full of highly touted but inexperienced freshmen, the leadership of junior captain Jeremy Roach has helped guide the Blue Devils this season through early growing pains to a conference championship. Things were no different Thursday night in Orlando, Fla., as another spectacular scoring performance from Roach led No. 5-seed Duke to a tournament-opening rout of No. 12-seed Oral Roberts. Just six days after setting a career high with 23 points in the ACC championship game, he matched that total against the Golden Eagles — which also happened to be the margin of victory. The combo guard finished 9-of-17 from the floor including a sterling 8-of-12 from inside the arc, while also chipping in three assists and two rebounds.
As one of just two players on the team (in addition to Illinois graduate transfer Jacob Grandison) who has previously started an NCAA tournament game, with a team helmed by a first-year head coach in Jon Scheyer, the veteran Roach’s ability to lead a young squad will play a pivotal role in determining how far Duke advances this March in its first tournament without Mike Krzyzewski on the sidelines in more than four decades.
One word: Ready
If the name Oral Roberts sounds familiar, it should. Just two seasons ago, the upstart conference champions from the Summit League knocked off No. 2-seed Ohio State and No. 7-seed Florida to become the second-ever No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16. This year’s team boasted five players who were part of that Cinderella run, headlined by senior guard Max Abmas who was named conference Player of the Year and ranks ninth in the country in points per game. Furthermore, the Golden Eagles came into the tournament having gone undefeated in conference play and riding a 17-game win streak. All of this, combined with the relative inexperience of Duke’s team and coaching staff this year, made the small school from Tulsa, Okla., a trendy first-round upset pick.
Someone should have told the Blue Devils. It was clear that Duke was prepared for the moment from the opening tip of the wire-to-wire victory. Its stingy defense, a strength all season long, held Abmas to just 12 points on 15 shots, including 2-of-9 from deep. All five freshmen in the rotation contributed and proved the moment was not too big for them, with Dariq Whitehead leading the bunch with 13 points off the bench and the big man duo of Dereck Lively II and Kyle Filipowski gobbling up 21 rebounds between them. Scheyer deserves credit for making sure his team was ready for the brightest lights, and his first tournament run as a head coach could not have gotten off to a much better start.
One stat: 8 minutes
That’s how long it took for Oral Roberts to get on the board. Duke’s devastating defense struck again, delivering an early punch that the Golden Eagles were never able to recover from. During that time, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 15-0 lead that would only swell as the game went on. Thanks to that huge opening run, the contest was never really in doubt: the closest it got after that was a 12-point differential, as Duke never took its foot off the gas en route to a dominant 74-51 victory.
The cold start to the game is even more surprising — and impressive for the Blue Devils — when considering that Oral Roberts is a usually dynamic offense, ranking third nationally in points per game at 84.2 entering the tournament. Those first eight minutes, during which the Golden Eagles went 0-for-12 from the field, were no fluke though either. Instead, they foreshadowed how difficult it would be for Oral Roberts to score for the entire night. Its offense was never able to take flight, and the 51 points it managed to put up represented its lowest output of the season by an 18-point margin.
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