In a game that featured two seven-footers, the leading rebounder in Saturday’s matinee win against Boston College was the man whose voice rang through the speakers in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Jared McCain: sharpshooter, TikTok dancer, elite rebounder.
The freshman guard stands at 6-foot-3 and has double digit-rebounds in three of his last four games, two of which (against the Tar Heels and the Eagles) he paired with 23 and 11 points, respectively, for double-doubles.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for McCain Saturday afternoon. He put up his first 3-point attempt early, just more than a minute into the game. It bounced off the rim. He got on the board just more than three minutes in with a layup, rebounded two Quinten Post misses, then drove to the basket again. The cycle would continue throughout the first half as McCain racked up seven defensive boards, six points and two dishes, but there was one glaring hole in McCain’s game — he was yet to make a three. And he had missed four straight attempts.
“When your shot’s not falling, you gotta find other ways to affect the game…” McCain said after the game. “Control what I can control.”
The Sacramento, Calif., native only hit once from downtown (on eight attempts), but that one was crucial. For 85 seconds down the stretch in the first half, Boston College had the 28-27 lead in Cameron Indoor. It had finally eclipsed the Blue Devils on a Claudell Harris Jr. triple, set up by Jaeden Zackery; he stole the rock from Mark Mitchell and dished it to Harris. The shot was exactly 21 seconds after another 3-pointer by Harris. Duke was able to close out the first half on top, mostly on the back of two Sean Stewart field goals, but it opened the final frame in a precarious position.
This was when McCain’s singular 3-pointer fell straight through.
“You work too hard to not shoot the next one with the same confidence that you've shot the last one,” McCain said.
A four-point advantage turned into a seven-point cushion. Then nine, then 11, as Mitchell drove to the rim, and then drove again. Harris hit a three (his last; he shot 3-for-10 from beyond the arc), but Roach turned right around and fed Kyle Filipowski for two paint points. Just more than three minutes in, and the Blue Devils had reclaimed a sizable lead (10 points at that moment) that they would not relinquish.
“The biggest segment we didn't win the game was the first four minutes of the second half,” Boston College head coach Earl Grant said.
Those four minutes were indeed the difference-maker.
“We got to come out with energy and effort. And I feel like those are two simple things we didn’t do these past few games, especially at UNC,” McCain said of the second half response. “And we were able to do it for this game.”
McCain only scored once more, a layup with three minutes to play to give him the double-double. You might think, then, that he disappeared, whether to the bench to ride out his shooting lull or into the background of a comfortable win. He didn’t. Instead, he led Duke in rebounds and assists without turning the ball over or committing a foul. He played 17 minutes of that second half, and he made the Eagles feel each and every second of it.
McCain has, without a doubt, been the breakout star on this year’s team. The five-star rating and recruiting rankings mean nothing as soon as a freshman steps onto Coach K Court. It took some time (the donut put up against Michigan State rings a bell), but as soon as McCain got comfortable, he was here to stay. He has six 20-point performances in his young career, and now five 10-rebound showings, impressive for a 6-foot-3 guard. He learned from his high school coach, who taught him how to track shots and place himself in position to grab the miss.
“Just watching the trajectory of the ball and seeing what side is gonna come off, it’s a little mind game I play,” McCain said.
“For me, I love the 10 [rebounds] more than the 17 [points],” Duke head coach Jon Scheyer said of McCain’s play after his team’s Nov. 17 win against Bucknell. Scheyer has started to let his star shooting guard loose a little bit, allowing him to rebound on the offensive end the past two games. The three he pulled in Saturday afternoon led the team as well.
“When I can play hard like that, it gets me going,” McCain said Saturday.
This was not McCain’s first tough shooting game; he has had his fair share of freshman ups-and-downs. It likely won’t be his last. No matter the point total next to his name, the Centennial product will still be putting up threes on one end and roaming for boards on the other. His shot will start falling again soon. He’s not worried about it.
“That's what I've done this whole time, visualizing myself as a starter or visualizing myself getting rebounds, making those shots,” McCain said. “So I think it's all going to come into play.”
And postgame, just as he has after every home game this season, McCain will be on the court, shooting threes. Working hard. Getting better.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.