Supercharged by Mitchell, McCain, No. 14 Duke men's basketball sinks Syracuse for first ACC win of season

Mark Mitchell slams the ball home during Duke's nightcap against Syracuse.
Mark Mitchell slams the ball home during Duke's nightcap against Syracuse.

It was as different as two halves could be. 

After not making a 3-pointer in the entire first half, Duke did not miss in the second with eight straight attempts from behind the arc, propelling the Blue Devils to a 86-66 victory against Syracuse to win their fifth game in a row. 

"For us, that was a tough conference win," said head coach Jon Scheyer. "The second half I thought we really shared it and just proud of this win and proud to get our first conference win."

The Orange came into Cameron Indoor with a winning streak of their own, including an impressive home victory against Pittsburgh. In addition, Quadir Copeland was named ACC Player of the Week Monday after a 22-point outburst against the Panthers. However, Duke (10-3, 1-1) stifled Copeland and Syracuse to win its first conference game of the season. 

For as slow as the offenses were in the first half, the teams completely flipped a switch to start the second. Freshman guard Jared McCain opened the scoring with the first Duke 3-pointer of the game. After sitting with foul trouble, sophomore center Kyle Filipowski came back with a vengeance, scoring twice in the paint in the first few minutes of the half. On the other side, JJ Starling ignited the Orange (10-4, 1-2) offense and their elite backcourt was key. But the Blue Devils scored four straight field goals out of the locker room and forced Syracuse head coach Adrian Autry to call a timeout. 

"I thought we forced the issue a little bit too much [in the first half]," Scheyer said. "But then in the second half, we just we had some beautiful plays: pass aheads, extra passes, sharing the ball."

Despite Maliq Brown’s continued assertion in the paint with two ferocious slams, it was the deep ball that allowed Duke to pull away. Guards Tyrese Proctor, Jeremy Roach and McCain all connected on momentum-shifting threes, igniting the Cameron Crazies. In the biggest one of them all, a Jaylen Blakes steal led to another McCain pull-up triple in transition. The Blue Devils went on a 13-2 run into the under-12 media timeout, leading 62-49 and never looking back. 

"I thought Jared McCain just had some back-breaking threes," Scheyer said. "It's a Duke shot, that transition wing three."

Duke continued its lights-out shooting from deep, McCain finished the contest with 18 points, shooting 4-for-6 in triples. This opened up driving lanes for the Blue Devils as they began to attack the basket and display their full offensive arsenal, and Syracuse could not keep up. Proctor and Filipowski continued their elite two-man game off the pick-and-roll, and Duke led 79-62 with 3:56 remaining. 

"When you see the ball go through the rim, it's a good feeling, it looks even bigger," Proctor said. "I think it just brings a lot more energy for everyone else and once we know a guy's in a rhythm we just try and keep going back to him."

It was a defensive affair for the majority of the first half, as both sides struggled from the field. 

The Blue Devils needed a spark, and that was Mark Mitchell. While he has struggled from deep all season, Mitchell’s ability as a slasher and cutter is instrumental to this offense. He scored back-to-back and-one finishes and ended the first half with 18 points. He also played as a big when both Filipowski and Ryan Young were in early foul trouble, securing key rebounds and anchoring the defense. 

"Mark Mitchell is a winner," Scheyer said. "That dude is a winner, competitor, connector, and I thought he was himself tonight. It really showed by [Roach and Filipowski] being out in that first half and we're winning by two at halftime."

But just as Mitchell was the key to Duke’s offensive success in the half, Brown was the guy for Syracuse, as the Orange tied the game at 29 behind eight straight points from Brown, including three rim-rockers. 

It was back-and-forth for the final few minutes of the first half, as both teams mainly capitalized from free throws. Duke went into the break holding a slim 35-33 lead, and there were question marks for both teams, especially on the offensive end. 

The defensive intensity from the Blue Devils was evident from the start, as the Orange did not connect on a field goal until a Copeland triple more than three minutes into the game. The Blue Devils forced two early turnovers, and Roach scored back-to-back layups in transition as Duke opened up to a 7-1 lead. Duke found its success from scoring in transition off Syracuse turnovers or pushing the ball after defensive rebounds. 

McCain continued his hot streak right from the tipoff, as he hit a pull-up jumper to open the scoring, setting a tone for his performance throughout the contest. His energy on both ends of the floor was impressive, as he was giving up more than a foot on an entry pass into 7-foot-4 Naheem McCloud, but deflected it leading to a turnover. 

"I just trust my work," McCain said. "Being able to have [Scheyer] let me shoot those is amazing for me as a freshman." 

The Orange worked their way back into the contest with elite play from their backcourt as sophomore Judah Mintz started to catch fire after missing his first three field goals, and Syracuse led 20-19 at the under-eight media timeout. But this was its last lead, and despite tying the game on multiple occasions, Autry’s squad could never quite get over the hump. 

Duke will look to keep its winning streak alive as it faces Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Saturday. 

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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