Friday’s victory against Bucknell was more than just the Mark Mitchell show.
While the sophomore’s career-high 20 points, 16 of which came in the first half, on 8-of-13 shooting will certainly be memorable, the Blue Devils put together arguably their most complete performance of the season to beat the Bison by a final score of 90-60. Duke played ravenously, crashing the glass with abandon and dominating the paint, leaving head coach Jon Scheyer practically blushing.
“I’m proud of this one...” Scheyer said after the game. “I haven’t been necessarily the most positive after these games. I’ve been very honest...and they’ve embraced it. So to see some improvement is great. ”
While it may be difficult to make grand statements about the ability of this Duke team based on tonight given Bucknell's status as the 330th-ranked team in the nation via KenPom, two stats immediately jump off the sheet, both of which have long-term implications for continued success: rebounds and assists-to-turnover ratio.
First, the Blue Devils outrebounded the Bison 46-27, which is especially impressive given that Bucknell has some size. Seven-foot Noah Williamson and 6-foot-9 Ruot Bijiek saw upwards of 27 minutes of action apiece, and yet 6-foot-3 freshman guard Jared McCain was able to lead both teams with 10 total rebounds (nine defensive) to go along with his 17 points.
“I just feel like I can always get rebounds..” said McCain after the contest. “I was just trying to be aggressive.”
“We’ve talked a lot about guard rebounding, and for Jared to come off a game where he probably didn’t play as well as he wanted to or play as much. Seventeen [points] and 10 [rebounds], for me, I love the 10 more than the 17,” said Scheyer.
McCain wasn’t the only Blue Devil to find rebounding success. Freshman Sean Stewart grabbed seven boards, three of them offensive, in only 16 minutes on the court. Mitchell and Kyle Filipowski each had six in 22 and 16 minutes, respectively. Overall, 13 offensive rebounds lead to 23 second-chance points for Scheyer’s squad, compared to zero points for Bucknell.
Secondly, Duke had 23 assists and only seven turnovers. Just less than 72% of the Blue Devils’ baskets were assisted, which shows just how well Duke was able to move the ball in the halfcourt and in transition. The Blue Devils scored 15 points on the fastbreak and 14 off turnovers. Bucknell, on the other hand, had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.0 and scored just five points off the fastbreak and four off turnovers.
“That’s what we want,” said McCain, referring to the assist-to-turnover margin. “That’s exactly what we want each and every game. As many assists, especially with the three guard lineup, we can push it and take care of the ball.”
“Every possession is so precious,” Scheyer echoed.
After his headline-grabbing 18-point, 80% 3-point shooting performance Tuesday against Michigan State, freshman Caleb Foster made his mark in a different way, dishing out six assists in 22 minutes of play. One of his passes found a wide open McCain, who cashed in from three and sent Cameron Indoor Stadium into a frenzy to extend the Duke lead to 31 points with under 14 minutes to play in the second half, essentially killing any hope the Bison had left.
“We had some really good sequences where we flowed into offense. Caleb, to come off his game and have six assists, no turnovers…when your guards are making great decisions and they’re playing unselfishly, really good things are gonna happen,” reflected Scheyer.
For Duke to make a run in March, it will have to do what it was unable to do last year against Tennessee: rebound well and not turn the ball over. Tonight, a budding Blue Devil squad showed, despite its performance in the Arizona game, it has the potential to execute both of those keys effectively. Tuesday against LaSalle is its next chance to prove it has the grit to do so night in and night out.
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