Mitchell, No. 14 Duke men's basketball show ability to win ugly, overcome tough road tests in victory against Notre Dame

Jeremy Roach hooks the ball around a Syracuse defender in Duke's win.
Jeremy Roach hooks the ball around a Syracuse defender in Duke's win.

Winning ugly: an inevitable occurrence through the course of a season for great teams. 

Two of Duke’s best players — Kyle Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor — had some of the worst games of their Blue Devil careers, and the team still escaped on the road with a gritty 67-59 ACC win against Notre Dame Saturday evening. 

Yes, it was sloppy, and the team turned the ball over an uncharacteristic amount. But with the exception of a win against Southern Indiana after a poor first half, Duke has not had many games where it has played below par and won. This was an opportunity for other players to shine, including sophomore forward Mark Mitchell and senior guard Jeremy Roach, who has been the team’s most consistent player this year. 

“ACC road wins are hard to get and hard to come by and you never take them for granted,” Mitchell said. “Tonight what we did, coming out here and just finding a way to win, it obviously wasn’t pretty. It wasn't a perfect game.”

It is important to note that the Fighting Irish are a great defensive squad, ranking in the 92nd percentile nationally in defensive rating. They held their last two conference opponents, Virginia and N.C. State, to only 54 points. But in the end, Duke’s win revealed two important keys for the rest of the season. 

The first is the revelation of Mitchell, who, after starting the season 1-for-22 from behind the arc, was 2-for-2 this game, scoring from everywhere on the court. 

He also had a career-high 23 points, replacing a previous high of 21 recorded in the Blue Devils’ win against Syracuse. Mitchell was a factor in transition and a force in the paint, giving the team instant offense when it was struggling the most. 

“Let me just tell you how proud I am of [Mitchell],” said head coach Jon Scheyer. “He's been working his butt off consistently. He's been really decisive and playing more confidently.”

“I've been shooting the ball my whole life and I knew the time was gonna come,” Mitchell said. “I work on it every day with [assistant coach Will Avery] and coach [Scheyer] and it just came through for me tonight.”

The Kansas City, Kan., native does not need to be a sharpshooter. Far from it, as that is not his strong suit. However, what he needs to have is a serviceable jump shot that is at least respectable behind the arc, just so that players guard him on the perimeter. 

When players are unable to sag off of Mitchell, he becomes a serious threat offensively, because his slashing ability is extremely difficult to guard. In addition, this creates so much more space for the Blue Devils, especially in pick-and-roll situations when Mitchell can either cut for an inside finish or connect on an occasional 3-pointer. 

“I think it is just coming to me,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, my teammates have been helping me and I've been working on my game.”

“[Mitchell’s] such a unique scorer, he really doesn't need plays run for him,” Roach said. “But he's just getting his stuff through the offense.”

The second key is the ability for the team to make halftime adjustments and mentally flush a poor start. 

In back-to-back games, Duke has improved its shooting in the second half and looked like two different teams. Scheyer’s team increased its field-goal percentage by 9% and its 3-point percentage by 20 between halves Saturday evening.  

And in this game, it was the turnovers that also improved. After nine in the first half, the Blue Devils only had two in the second, valuing possessions which were crucial down the stretch. 

“I thought we were just kind of being careless,” Roach said. “Give credit to Notre Dame, they made it tough for us, they were getting in the passing lanes.”

These takeaways are positive because this game was undoubtedly a valuable experience for the Blue Devils moving forward. However, subpar road performances have become a trend during the past two years, and this is not sustainable if Duke wants to finish at the top of the league. 

Last season, the Blue Devils were 4-6 in road ACC contests, which were the lone blemishes after a perfect home slate. For that not to happen this year, the team needs to start better on the road and not overlook anybody in the conference. 

The Duke faithful will soon find out if this road win is a sign of things to come, as the Blue Devils take on a tough Pittsburgh team on the road Tuesday. 

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Sports Editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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