It was just what the doctor ordered for Duke.
After a shaky start against Southern Indiana and an unvictorious week against Arkansas and Georgia Tech, Duke fell to No. 22 in the AP poll and needed to bounce back. Even with some adversity, an efficient and complete performance on both sides of the ball from the Blue Devils led to a much-needed 80-56 win against Charlotte Saturday afternoon. Senior guard Jeremy Roach and freshman Jared McCain led the way with 39 combined points.
"I'm proud of the response that our team had," said head coach Jon Scheyer. "Last week, we weren't good enough... and so for us, this week was about getting back to work. I felt we had the best week of practice we've had so far this year."
Freshman guard Caleb Foster got his first start of the season to run the point in the absence of sophomore Tyrese Proctor due to injury, and he immediately demonstrated his connection with fellow freshman McCain. On Duke’s first possession of the game, Foster found McCain coming off a screen for a triple. The Blue Devils (6-3, 0-1 in the ACC) struggled to execute in the half-court offense, but this play set the tone for the contest.
"I love [Foster], he's my roommate, he's my guy," said McCain. "So I was so excited just to play with him on the court."
McCain continued to demonstrate his offensive prowess throughout the game, finishing with 21 points and scoring from all three levels of the court. Whether it be aggressive drives to the basket or sharp shooting, he made his impact felt in the absence of Proctor. The Sacramento, Calif., native started the second half right where he left off, connecting on a triple and getting to the line to score Duke’s first five points.
"[McCain] is a guy that's really believes in himself, and I thought he showed today with his response," said Scheyer. "He never has made an excuse, always wants to know what he can do better and so I'm proud for him."
There was immediately an emphasis on ball pressure and physicality on the defensive end, as Duke played much closer to 49er ball-handlers. Nevertheless, it was a back-and-forth contest to start, because Charlotte (5-4) responded well by attacking the basket and finding the open player. Junior center Dishon Jackson was the beneficiary of two good passes which he slammed home for dunks.
After Duke’s lead blossomed to 23 in the second half off a Roach triple, the 49ers did not go away easily, and went on a 11-0 run to cut the Blue Devil lead to 11 with 14:03 left in the second half. Charlotte’s backcourt of Nik Graves and Lu’Cye Patterson came alive and sparked the offense with impressive shotmaking.
However, Duke went back to what worked offensively — attacking the basket and getting to the line. Roach and Jaylen Blakes both scored for the Blue Devils and Blakes hit a crucial 3-pointer into the under-12 media timeout with Duke up 62-48. This changed the momentum of the contest, and even though both teams struggled to make field goals in the following minutes, the Blue Devils grabbed back control of the game with stifling defense.
"I didn't think we came out in the start of the second half with the same mentality," said Scheyer. "Besides that segment, I thought our defense was really consistent, which is five guys moving together."
Blakes had a season-high 15 points and was perfect from the field, but his hustle plays were the difference in the contest, diving for loose balls and pressuring the 49ers.
"[Blakes] is always ready," said Roach. "I mean, when he gets his opportunity, he's always gonna shine."
The Blue Devils have struggled to shoot at points this season, but the team both connected from deep and took advantage of its chances at the line, a testament to its physicality. Duke shot 22-for-28 from the charity stripe.
The deep ball was also working, as the Blue Devils shot 55.6% from downtown, their highest all year. Senior guard Jeremy Roach, Duke’s second-highest 3-point shooter, connected on 3-of-5 attempts.
Charlotte briefly transitioned into a 1-3-1 zone in the first half, but Duke moved the ball well and Roach connected on a triple with the assist from McCain. The Blue Devils continued to shoot it well from deep, as Blakes hit his second 3-pointer all season off an offensive rebound by graduate center Ryan Young. The lead blossomed to 22-11 with 11:14 left in the first half, and Duke never looked back.
"I loved the collective effort on the defensive end," said Scheyer. "Of course, when you do that, you end up having the most points you've scored in the first half all year, because you're just sharing, you're focusing on just giving it everything you have."
Duke also found offense with help from its defense, as the Blue Devils dominated the transition game. Sophomore forward Mark Mitchell and center Kyle Filipowski had back-to-back finishes off outlet passes at the tail end of the first half, and Duke took a 45-27 lead into the locker room, the most points it has scored in the first half all season. Scheyer’s squad led by as much as 23 at one point, but Charlotte ended the half on a 10-5 run.
Duke will stay at home to take on Hofstra Tuesday, before taking a break for finals and traveling to Madison Square Garden in New York for a contest with Baylor Dec. 20.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.