FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.—In the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge, No. 7 Duke and Arkansas are locked in a rough-and-tumble matchup at Bud Walton Arena. With 20 minutes behind them and 20 to go in yet another marquee early-season test for the reigning ACC tournament champions, the Blue Devils trail the Razorbacks 33-32:
Wednesday night’s matchup between two foes quite familiar with one another in high-stakes games held more weight than simply as a strong nonconference proving ground. For 24 years the Blue Devils participated in the now-defunct ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a series in which they saw incredible success and a 20-4 aggregate record. That disappeared at the start of the year with the announcement of the ACC/SEC Challenge, ushering a new era of high-caliber basketball for both Duke and Arkansas. The 1994 national championship game and 2022 Elite Eight rematch has proven to be exactly that so far — with a buzzing crowd of 19,000 strong to boot.
Although the score stayed relatively even throughout a punch-for-punch opening half, one statistic that did not was the assist-to-turnover ratio. While the likes of sophomore Tyrese Proctor and senior Jeremy Roach have helped contribute to a Blue Devil backcourt which has proven quite effective at passing the rock around, Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman’s defensive scheme has proven remarkably effective at shutting them down. By the end of the half, it was the Razorbacks who demonstrated themselves as the more economical passers, holding a 10-5 margin to Duke’s concerning 5-5 metric.
No Mark? No problem
With Arkansas’ best player, junior Tramon Mark, sidelined for Wednesday’s game with an injury suffered in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, it seemed like the home team would miss his offensive explosiveness against Duke. But this was not much of an issue in the first half for Musselman’s team. The Dickinson, Texas, native put up a team-high 71 points across the Razorbacks’ last three games against North Carolina, Memphis and Stanford, but it was redshirt sophomore forward Trevon Brazile who shone in the opening 20 minutes, challenging the Blue Devil frontcourt with his clinical 80% shooting and athletic 6-foot-10 frame. He finished the half with 11 points and six boards, both team-highs.
The Blue Devils have struggled somewhat with early foul trouble all year, and that trend continued in a physical and relatively undisciplined opening period. Sophomore center Kyle Filipowski was forced to the bench early with two fouls inside the opening five minutes and four total on the team at that point, allowing Arkansas to control the early pace of the game and keep Duke’s best players anxious. Eventually, the Razorbacks fell victim to the foul bug too, getting five of their own within 10 minutes, but the Blue Devils committed that fatal seventh foul shortly thereafter, giving Arkansas nearly 10 minutes of time in the bonus.
Player of the half: Jeremy Roach
During the team introductions before tipoff, the Arkansas fans chanted “big deal!” at Roach — a dig at the only player still on Duke’s roster who helped eliminate the Razorbacks from the 2022 NCAA tournament in former head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final win. While intended with a mocking tone, the senior captain has proved to be the Blue Devils’ closest thing to a “big deal” so far in this game, shooting perfectly from the line and leading his team with eight points. Roach’s characteristic drives through traffic have emerged as one of head coach Jon Scheyer’s only counters to a lengthy and athletic Arkansas defense that has shut Filipowski — the team’s traditional weapon — down cold.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.