After each Duke men’s basketball game this season, check back here for the Player of the Game and more. The fifth-seed Blue Devils exited the NCAA tournament after a heartbreaking 65-52 loss to No. 4-seed Tennessee, and the Blue Zone is here to break down the game:
One player: Tyrese Proctor
After a 10-game win streak put the Blue Devils in prime contention to make a deep tournament run, they finally ran out of gas against the Volunteers on Saturday. However, Tyrese Proctor, a large reason for the success during Duke’s surge, did all he could to keep victory within reach for the Blue Devils for much of the contest. The freshman guard scored 16 points, dished out six assists and nabbed two steals in the loss, while playing all but three minutes of the contest. Proctor made all three of his free throws and went 6-for-13 from the floor.
Duke fell into a nine-point deficit at the beginning of the second half, but it appeared as though Proctor was going to help claw it back into the game. He scored five straight points to cut the Tennessee lead to two with 15:40 left, but missed a critical 3-point shot that would have given the Blue Devils the lead. His struggles from outside the arc were a microcosm of the team’s, as Duke made just 27.3% of its trey attempts. Nevertheless, Proctor gave a valiant effort and kept the Blue Devils within arm’s reach for much of the second half. Regardless of whether the Australian stays with the program next season, his progression as a player and a point guard were clear in Duke’s defeat.
One word: Turnovers
Throughout Duke’s win streak, the team committed more than 12 turnovers just once, in its comfortable 22-point win against Syracuse. In the postseason, Duke protected the ball even better, averaging just under 10 turnovers per game through its victory against Oral Roberts. However, this trend came crashing down against the Volunteers as the Blue Devils committed 15 turnovers, their most since their regular-season loss to Virginia. Tennessee ended the first half on a 14-2 run, which saw five Duke giveaways in less than five minutes. Had the Blue Devils secured their own possessions better, they may have generated more momentum throughout the game, which might have led the team to the Sweet 16.
One stat: 23 bench minutes
The Blue Devils missed nine of their last 11 shots in Saturday’s contest, and while part of this was due to desperation, exhaustion likely also played a role. With freshman forward Mark Mitchell removed from the starting lineup just minutes before tip with a knee injury, Duke only had three players — Ryan Young, Jaylen Blakes and Jacob Grandison — come off the bench for a combined 23 minutes. Each of Duke’s starters played 33 minutes or more; Kyle Filipowski, Dereck Lively II, and Jeremy Roach all played extended time despite accumulating four fouls. Meanwhile, the Volunteers had a strong nine-man rotation, ensuring no one other than star guard Santiago Vescovi played more than 29 minutes. With the loss of Mitchell, the young Blue Devils wore down heavily due to long playing time, which gave Tennessee enough of an edge to prevent Duke from making it to the Sweet 16.
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