And one: Mitchell's first half dominance, forced turnovers drive No. 14 Duke to win over Syracuse

Sophomore forward Mark Mitchell blocks a shot against Queens.
Sophomore forward Mark Mitchell blocks a shot against Queens.

The Blue Devils started off the new year right with a 20-point victory against Syracuse Tuesday. The Blue Zone recaps the win with the Player of the Game and more:

One player: Mark Mitchell

After a strong freshman campaign, Mitchell’s second-year performance thus far had been lackluster. The 6-foot-9 forward fought his way to a respectable 11.18 points per game before Tuesday’s game against the Orange — largely through opportunities from the charity stripe. However, what has raised concern for Mitchell’s game has been his significant decline in ability beyond the arc on heightened volume. Last season, the Kansas City, Kan., native shot at an effective 35.2%. Now, he is only 1-of-22 from deep in 12 games played.

On Tuesday, Mitchell turned it around. Duke faced an early first-half challenge, as preseason All-American Kyle Filipowski quickly earned two fouls. With the sophomore center’s minutes limited, the team’s spacing was weakened — leading to contested 3-point attempts that the Blue Devils could not knock down. Tackling this struggle, Mitchell found dominance in the paint. His athleticism and length powered him to 18 first-half points — 12 earned in the paint and the remaining six collected at the line. The Sunrise Christian product also collected five rebounds and a block during these crucial minutes as Duke’s prominent big man. His contribution is ultimately what allowed the team to cling on to a two-point lead entering halftime, despite significant struggles almost everywhere else on the floor. With Filipowski back in the second half and spacing reestablished, Mitchell’s scoring cooled down. He added three points to his total for a career-high of 21 while also dishing out three assists. 

Beyond serving as a critical contributor to the Blue Devils’ win, Mitchell’s impressive showing could be a strong reflection of what to expect moving forward. The big man can reestablish his identity as an explosive scorer around the rim, opting for and-one opportunities as an avenue to three points as opposed to deep looks. Consistently providing the offensive efficiency he saw in the first half on top of his defensive presence will make Mitchell an invaluable weapon for this Duke team with ambitious postseason aspirations.

One word: Confidence

Tuesday's performance was dominated by confidence. Mitchell’s aforementioned superstar half was both a result of his growing confidence in his ability to drive to the basket, as well as a strong tangible result to fuel his confidence moving forward. Likewise, freshman guard Jared McCain continues to ride his hot streak. He is shooting 53% from deep with seventeen makes since the loss at Georgia Tech Dec. 2. Against Syracuse, he stumbled in the first half with struggles in the mid-range and around the rim. However, he maintained confidence in his ability as a shooter and found better looks in the second half to fuel his way toward 18 points. 

As a team, the Blue Devils helped build their collective confidence, as they now sit on a five-game win streak. The team is poised to face back-to-back tests on the road in Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Entering the road trip with a dominant 20-point conference win will be a much-needed confidence booster for this squad that tends to struggle early, especially in away environments.

One stat: 75% from the field in the second half 

The Blue Devils’ overall offensive efficiency was truly a tale of two halves. The team shot 37.1% from the field and 0-of-9 from deep in the first half but put up an outstanding 75% mark from the field including 8-of-8 from three in the second. The deep shooting was propelled by four made threes from McCain, two from recovering sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor and two from senior guard Jeremy Roach. Pushing for opportunities in transition and hunting for cleaner looks allowed for such a drastic turnaround in the team’s shooting ability. These dynamics surrounding the Duke’s fluctuating offensive efficiency will play a pivotal role in contests to come. The team needs to recognize and lean into the drastic differences in spacing and rim-running that are established with different sides of the rotation to better optimize offensive production at all stages of the game. 


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