No. 21 Duke men's basketball flashes elite scoring potential, depth in runaway win against Hofstra

Mark Mitchell (25), Kyle Filipowski (30) and Jared McCain converse during Duke's win against Hofstra.
Mark Mitchell (25), Kyle Filipowski (30) and Jared McCain converse during Duke's win against Hofstra.

After back-to-back road losses at unranked Arkansas and Georgia Tech, No. 21 Duke’s season seemed to be teetering on the edge early, with no clear identity and a stagnant offense being just two of the issues facing head coach Jon Scheyer’s squad. But while the job is certainly nowhere close to finished, Tuesday night’s 89-68 win against Hofstra showed Blue Devil fans the true potential of their team. 

During the first half, the matchup with the Pride seemed like every other Duke game up to this point: struggle early and work to claw back from a deficit. This was the exact story from the opening tip, as the Blue Devils had to consistently trade shots with the visitors to stay within striking distance. They also struggled to contain the three ball, as Hofstra shot 6-for-13 from downtown during the first 20 minutes, including five made attempts for Darlinstone Dubar. As a result, Scheyer’s squad found itself down five at the under-four media timeout, seemingly primed to be upset by a hot Pride squad. But it is what happened from this point that should get the Duke faithful excited about the team’s future prospects. 

Make no mistake, Hofstra is not a slouch by any means. The visitors entered the contest ranked 102nd in KenPom with an offensive rating that registers as the 80th-best mark in the nation. The Pride are consistently one of the better mid-majors in the country, and they proved that Tuesday evening inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

After a tight first half from wire to wire, Duke finally showed some signs of its potential in the last stanza, going on a 7-0 run over the last two minutes and making its last five shots to extend the lead to five going into the locker room.

“It was just winning these last four minutes … getting the stops,” sophomore center Kyle Filipowski said of the first-half surge. “We need to keep getting better at finishing out the first half strong. And we actually did that this time and it gave us a good little boost going into the second half.”

From there, the Blue Devils never looked back, continuing to extend their lead throughout the second half until the final buzzer, eventually emerging with an impressive 21-point win against the best mid-major opponent on its schedule. In the second half, the 3-point defense was much improved, as the Pride only knocked down four of their 11 attempts, simply lacking the firepower to both reach their season average for points and to take down their opponent. 

Despite the final score, Duke played nowhere close to its best basketball on the offensive end. The Blue Devils went on multiple cold spells throughout the contest where they were unable to extend their lead, giving the Pride chances to get back into the game. But every time head coach Speedy Claxton’s team looked to be attempting a comeback, Duke had the answer, whether it was playing stretches of stifling defense or knocking down tough shots from all levels. 

“I told our team, the blueprint is set, the blueprint set after these last two games. You have to continue to adjust and adapt to who you're playing, what the game plan is,” Scheyer said. “But in terms of the preparation, the collective effort, the fight, tonight was great because it wasn't perfect for us in the first half. So for them to take the lead and then for us to respond, that was great.”

Most importantly, the Blue Devils avoided falling into the trap of playing hero ball when times got tough, with Scheyer’s emphasis on sharing the ball paying dividends, as they had 22 assists on 33 made shots while only turning the ball over 10 times. 

If Duke wants to reach its full potential, it needs its stars to play like stars night in and night out. And Tuesday evening at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Filipowski reminded everyone why he was tabbed as a Preseason All-American and the Preseason ACC Player of the Year. The sophomore put together likely the best game of his young career and one of the best individual performances in recent Duke memory, as the Westtown, N.Y., native dominated from the opening tip. It is no secret that Filipowski excels at both scoring and rebounding, as he leads Duke in both categories, but he showed what the next step may look like going forward as the big man finished with a season-high 28 points after racking up 17 in the first half alone to go along with 12 rebounds. 

But with a long-term outlook in mind, the most important aspect of Filipowski’s excellent outing was his performance as a facilitator, as he collected a career-high eight assists, bringing him just shy of a triple-double. Teams all year have and will continue to help over on the 7-footer and apply pressure down low, so if he can kick the ball out to open shooters, opposing defenses may simply have to try their chances guarding him one-on-one down low.

“For a 7-footer to pass the way he does is big time, and if he cleans up a few of those, all of a sudden, he does have the triple-double. The amount of points that are scored from when he touches it, it's just such an amazing thing to have,” Scheyer said. “I don't think any team can match when he's that way.”

Without sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor, who remains inactive due to a sprained ankle suffered against Georgia Tech, Scheyer has had to rely on senior guard Jeremy Roach along with freshmen Caleb Foster and Jared McCain to steady the backcourt. On Tuesday evening, all three looked capable of leading the offense, as each member of the trio scored nine points or more and helped to steady the Blue Devil attack. Roach in particular continued his stretch of spectacular play, putting up 19 points to go with eight assists while also committing zero turnovers. The Leesburg, Va., native seems to have fully unlocked his jump shot so far this season, as he is shooting an outstanding 50% from downtown through 10 games. 

“I thought Jeremy was in great control of the game. His stats, of course, were great with 19 points and eight assists,” Scheyer said. “But for me, it was just his command, his poise, the way he looked throughout, he was never rattled. He's really stepped up big time for us.”

McCain continued to show his value as a reliable starter, knocking down three 3-pointers while also racking up four rebounds and two steals. Foster had four rebounds to go with nine points and a +26 plus-minus in the box score. However, Jaylen Blakes has been the true beneficiary of Proctor’s absence, as the junior has excelled in an expanded role, continuing to provide his tenacious defense every second he spends on the floor. 

No one is easily going to forget those two disappointing road losses anytime soon, but Duke can only hope that those experiences have helped build towards crafting a team identity — a character that has begun to surface even with its starting point guard sidelined. If the blueprint is set, all there is to do is to continue building, and that quest continues with a tough test against No. 6 Baylor at Madison Square Garden next Wednesday. 


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