Despite the event’s name, No. 9 Duke was not expected to receive a stern test in the Blue Devil Challenge. Yet in its last contest, the Blue Devils found themselves facing a Southern Indiana team that was determined to pull off an upset. The Screaming Eagles learned a valuable lesson Friday night, though — no one can keep Duke down for long.
After a sloppy first half that saw them trailing through the first 20 minutes of play, the Blue Devils put on a display of grit and pure power of will to defeat the Screaming Eagles 80-62 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Sophomore Kyle Filipowski led the way with 21 points and 14 rebounds, followed by senior guard Jeremy Roach with 18 points of his own. With the victory, Duke extends its win streak to four games while going undefeated in the Blue Devil Challenge.
"They played harder than we did at the beginning...[but] we did make some plays and made a run in the second half," said head coach Jon Scheyer. "It's good to win, but it's not just about winning, it's about playing to the best of your ability."
Coming out of the halftime locker room, Duke (5-1) was behind at the break for just the second time this season 35-31. The squad from Durham went 12-of-32 from the field while shooting the three at a lackluster 12.5% clip. Looking a step behind on defense and struggling offensively, the Blue Devils desperately needed to make a second-half statement. And make a statement they did.
Freshman guard Jared McCain opened the scoring in the second 20 minutes of play with an effortless play off a Tyrese Proctor pick-and-roll to pull Duke within one. Roach drove inside to draw the foul, making one of his chances from the line to tie the game. Then, the Blue Devils finally earned their first lead since just over two minutes into the first half. Filipowski muscled his way to the basket, making the layup and drawing the foul for the and-one.
"We got to put on a show for the camera and for all these fans showing up here during break as well," said Filipowski. "We've got to be really appreciative of that."
From there, Duke found its offensive spark. Filipowski dished the ball to sophomore forward Mark Mitchell for an emphatic dunk before McCain nailed a wide-open three. Roach once again got in on the party, converting two threes of his own. The AP Preseason All-American continued to heat up as well, spinning past his defender for the dunk less than five minutes into the half.
Southern Indiana (1-6), for its part, refused to go down quietly. Going on a 7-0 scoring run midway through the second half, a dunk from sophomore center Kiyron Powell cut the Blue Devils’ lead to single digits. The Evansville, Ind., native also had a big block against Mitchell to help stave off the charging Duke offense.
After once again experiencing a scoring drought, the Blue Devils were rescued by Proctor. With a backdoor cut and assist from Filipowski, the sophomore guard slammed the ball for a dunk and earned the and-one after a blow to the head. However, Proctor was assessed a technical foul in the wake of his dunk, resulting in two free throws for Jeremiah Hernandez.
"Tyrese and Flip are always gonna be focal points of what we do and those two together are even better," said Scheyer.
From the opening tip, Proctor picked up right where he left off after Duke’s Tuesday win against La Salle, easily draining a three for the Blue Devils’ first points of the game. However, the Blue Devils looked shaky through the first five minutes of play. Shooting 2-for-11 from the field and 1-of-6 from three, Duke seemingly couldn’t convert despite open looks. Southern Indiana, on the other hand, took advantage of the sloppiness, making three of four opportunities from beyond the arc in the early aughts of the contest to go up 11-5.
"Coach said bring our energy before the game, and it was too patchy and wasn't consistent," said Proctor.
The slow shooting start was exacerbated by turnovers and poor defensive matchups as the Blue Devils failed to get back and lock down the Screaming Eagles. Letting Southern Indiana go on a 12-1 scoring run, it wasn’t until freshman forward Sean Stewart got a block that the tide started to turn for Duke. Desperately needing a basket, the ball found the hands of graduate center Ryan Young in the paint with his back to the hole, who spun for the layup.
Things continued to look bleak for the Blue Devils as they went on a more than three-minute scoring drought before Caleb Foster got his first points of the game after ripping inside for the layup. Looking slow on rotations defensively with a lack of communication, the Screaming Eagles continued to take advantage, extending their lead to 22-12 with less than nine minutes to play in the first half.
"There's no room for that at all, especially here at Duke," said Filipowski. "We're trying to get better at this game as a whole and we weren't doing that at all."
It was McCain who started to breathe life into Duke. After Roach made a layup, the Sacramento, Calif., native earned a steal to garner two points of his own. Filipowski got in on the scoring party, muscling his way past Southern Indiana’s Nolan Causwell for a layup of his own.
The Blue Devils finally got some much needed momentum, going on a 7-0 run at the end of the first half behind buckets from Foster, Young and Mitchell. While Southern Indiana’s AJ Smith nailed a three in the final minute, it was Proctor who got the last word before jogging into the locker room. The Sydney native drove to the basket for a last-second layup to lead Duke into the locker room with a four-point deficit.
"Especially late in the first half, [the guys] provided a big spike for us going into halftime," said Filipowski.
On the defensive end, the Blue Devils tightened things up, only giving up 27 points in the final 20 minutes of play while scoring 49 of their own. Forcing two 10-second violations and seven turnovers in the second half alone, Duke was able to stifle its opponents enough to get the victory.
"I think it speaks to who we can be when we're right, in pressuring the ball and impacting it," said Scheyer.
The Blue Devils will now prepare for the ACC/SEC Challenge, where they will take on No. 20 Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., Wednesday night.
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Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.