5 observations from No. 14 Duke men's basketball's first half against Syracuse

Mark Mitchell lofts the ball in under the basket during Duke's first half against Syracuse.
Mark Mitchell lofts the ball in under the basket during Duke's first half against Syracuse.

Back home in Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday night, the 14th-ranked Blue Devils look to kick off 2024 by downing Syracuse for their first conference win of the season. At halftime, Duke narrowly leads the Orange 35-33:

Proctor on recharge

Sophomore point guard Tyrese Proctor stepped back onto the court to help the Blue Devils make 106 points against Queens Saturday, though he didn’t start that game and only played 18 minutes of the matchup. On Tuesday night freshman Caleb Foster started in his place at the point once again but handed it off to his more veteran teammate after less than five minutes of play. After missing four games due to an injury incurred in the first minute of Duke’s first ACC matchup of the season, a loss at Georgia Tech, Proctor seems to be making a slower return to his former role as a leading man and scorer. His early entry into the competition, however, indicates that the Sydney native is on his way to a full reinstatement into the starting five.

No need for more speed

It was still early minutes when senior captain Jeremy Roach made his second fast-break-turned-and-one play against the Orange. Twice, he took control of the ball after failed Syracuse attempts at the basket and twice he converted possession into layups that also earned him an extra shot from an Orange foul. Duke’s offensive efficiency was at a high in the first half of this late-night matchup, with the added advantage of five steals from the Blue Devil backcourt helping shots fall in favor of the home team.

All in

Duke’s depth has been the talk of the town since the preseason, but Tuesday night was the first time head coach Jon Scheyer has really dipped into it in the early minutes. He started Foster, then subbed in Proctor, then just minutes later sent Ryan Young, TJ Power and Jaylen Blakes into the action. After a mid-half media timeout, he sent Foster back in for Roach, testing the freshman’s versatility at different guard positions and seeing how he plays next to a healing Proctor. Then Scheyer sent freshman Sean Stewart into the mix, putting him on the court with Mark Mitchell to add strength in defense. Before little more than a quarter of the game had elapsed, 10 of the team’s 13 active players had seen time on Coach K Court.

Shooting blanks

Duke and Syracuse might wear contrasting colors and play very differently in many respects, but they had one thing in common the whole of the first half: bad shooting from deep. The Orange went 2-for-8 from three while the home team went 0-for-9, even with McCain’s 44.8% and Power’s 57.1% arms in active duty on the court. It was an uncharacteristic fault for this particular Duke squad, if one levied by the same folly from the other team. For the Blue Devils to stretch that two-point lead, however, they will look to improve on downtown action in the second half.

Player of the half: Mark Mitchell

It wasn’t just that he did everything to live up to his reputation as a threatening defensive presence. Mitchell was also a powerhouse on offense, leading the Blue Devils with 18 points at the half, which he has only done once this season, with 20 in Duke’s win against Bucknell. Six of those points came from free throws; Mitchell lined up at the stripe four times in the first half and landed all but one of his seven attempted shots. His size came in handy for forcing fouls from the Orange and also in enabling him to collect a block and five rebounds to defend against a Syracuse lead. He put the icing on the cake in the last minute of the half by slamming a dunk on the visiting team, much to the delight of the Cameron Crazies.


Sophie Levenson profile
Sophie Levenson | Sports features editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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