GREENSBORO, N.C.—You could have sounded the final buzzer then. With 17:04 left in the game, 7-foot-2 center Dereck Lively II lined up on the wing and hit his second-career three to put Duke up 60-32. If the game was out of control before, that was when it ended.
Dominating all 40 minutes, No. 4-seed Duke advanced to the ACC tournament semifinals by routing No. 5-seed Pittsburgh 96-69 to add a seventh game to its win streak. The Blue Devils’ points and team assists were both season highs. Seemingly every member of the Blue Devils got in on the action, catapulting themselves to a free and easy, share-the-love scoring output with a season-best defensive performance.
“I've really been working on expanding my game, making sure I'm shooting from the top of the key, corners, wings, just being able to be focused and comfortable with the ball in any position,” Lively said of his 3-pointer. “It comes down to sharing the ball. When we get out of transition,... we're looking to keep the ball moving. We're looking to make sure we make the next play, and the next pass, and making sure we get, not a good shot, but a great shot.”
The under-16 timeout finally came moments after the 14-minute mark in the first half, following perhaps the smoothest six minutes of basketball the Blue Devils have played all season. The score, 16-4, would indicate a fast start, but the shooting line — 6-of-8 from the field, 3-of-5 from three — told the truth: Duke was playing with the relaxed pace and aplomb of a team putting on a defensive clinic. Pittsburgh had made a single basket to go along with a pair of free throws. It would not hit double-digit points until 8:57 left in the first half.
With a pair of first-half blocks, ACC All-Defensive Team selection Dereck Lively II led that charge, handily neutralizing Pittsburgh center Federiko Federiko, while also tying his own career-high 13 points. But the whole team was especially strong, totaling seven team steals and forcing 10 Pittsburgh turnovers. In the backcourt, junior captain Jeremy Roach was everywhere he needed to be defensively, while freshman guard Tyrese Proctor, guarding All-ACC First-Team selection Jamarius Burton, comfortably held his opponent to 13 points.
“These guys are really good on-the-ball defenders. They're really smart without the ball, positional defense, knowing rotations. That's why I think we got some of these steals. But youth aside, it's a really smart team that we have, and I think it's part of the reason we've been so good on defense,” head coach Jon Scheyer said.
“Our best offense comes from our defense, so just pushing the pace. If we get deflections and get the ball in the guards' hands quickly, [Mark Mitchell’s] hands, [Filipowski’s] hands, anyone can push, we're so versatile,” Proctor said.
The Blue Devils were also able to get into a comfortable offensive rhythm, helped by the steady hand of Proctor. The freshman had seven assists at the break and 10 in total, weaving through open channels to put the ball into the hands of any one of Duke’s hot shooters.
Seven-foot freshman Kyle Filipowski was first on that list. After hitting two threes to open the game’s scoring, he took a brief pause for an apparent ankle injury before returning to the game and dropping another eight points by the half. He finished the game with 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 4-of-6 from three, not cooling down in the second half. Once again, just over a minute into the frame, Filipowski got open at the top of the key and swished a triple, following up a Mark Mitchell layup to get the Duke train moving. Moments later, after pickpocketing Nelly Cummings, Roach found Filipowski for a fastbreak slam.
Proctor finally got on the board with his own points with 4:35 left in the first. Curling to the basket for a layup, he laid the ball in with only his right hand, using his left to keep his defender an arm’s length away. He sank three threes en route to 11 points, but his best play came at the close of the first half. Showing off his pristine handles and expertly crossing up his defender, Proctor opened up space for Roach to sink an emphatic triple. The pair finished with 20 combined points and 16 combined assists.
“We’ve got to keep it moving, got to keep the defense moving side to side. When we break defenses down, I don’t think anyone can guard us,” Roach said.
After essentially putting the game away in the first, the Blue Devils had some fun with it in the second. Guards Jaylen Blakes and Jaden Schutt entered the game, scoring three and two points, respectively, with 6-foot-5 Schutt even logging a block. Meanwhile, center Ryan Young directed the offense, whipping the ball across the court for four assists, including one with just more than six minutes to go to Jacob Grandison for a slam dunk.
With the Blue Devils closing in on a season-high point total, head coach Jon Scheyer emptied out his bench, letting his stars get some well-earned rest to prepare for the semifinals. Even third-string center Christian Reeves got on the board with a turnaround jumper and a dunk.
Duke will face Miami at 7 p.m. Friday as it looks to use this momentum to redeem its 81-59 loss from the teams’ last meeting.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.