McCain silences both crowd and critics in record-setting performance for No. 9 Duke men's basketball against Florida State

Jared McCain sunk eight threes, and tied the freshman single-game scoring record, against Florida State .
Jared McCain sunk eight threes, and tied the freshman single-game scoring record, against Florida State .

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— Jared McCain, everyone.

Duke’s freshman guard turned a good rookie season into a great one Saturday as he made his way into the program record books with his 35-point, eight-3-pointer performance in the ninth-ranked Blue Devils’ 76-67 win against Florida State. His masterful outing first erased an early deficit in the Seminoles’ home arena and then gave Duke its unwavering lead in a tough road contest.

He set his career high in scoring and 3-pointers made in the first half and went on to tie the Duke freshman single-game scoring record, evening up with Zion Williamson in that category. He finished just one triple shy of tying the program’s all-time record, though he did best Cam Reddish’s mark for a freshman.

“Every single game I feel I can come out and make every shot, it's just the confidence I have in my work ethic,” McCain said. “So when I saw the first one go in, I'm just gonna keep shooting.”

McCain’s afternoon started with a side-step three and a step-back elbow jumper, but Duke’s porous defense early on allowed the Seminoles to rush to a 14-8 lead. After the Blue Devils closed it to 16-13, the Sacramento, Calif., native told everyone in the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center it was his game to lose. Nine straight points on back-to-back-to-back threes had his scoring total at a whopping 14 not yet eight minutes into the contest. 

Nearly every shot was from a steady base, with McCain’s smooth and consistent form propelling the ball through nylon and his team to a six-point lead. For Duke fans all too familiar with the sight of the massive Seminole logo on center court indicating trouble for the Blue Devils (they had lost two of three there since 2017), the early going was not yet time to marvel in McCain’s personal performance. But a glance at the box score likely turned that mood. Number zero in blue had yet to miss from the field and was already ahead of his season scoring average. Just eight minutes in. 

Would he ever miss? 

Seven of his first eight 3-point attempts connected, and the closest defender on those shots had an average of three inches on the freshman, showing just how open he was — and how comfortable he felt — both when spotting up and shooting off the dribble. Arguably the most skillful shots of his 25-point first half came when he stepped back with the ball in his off hand against 6-foot-10 Taylor Bol Bowen with around six minutes to play, and then later when he gathered a Jeremy Roach pass at full speed before taking a step behind the line on the right wing to sink yet another as the final seconds ticked away.

“How can we get him the ball more,” Scheyer said was the coaching mindset early on. “Clearly he just had it going, you can see it.”

At first it was a question of how to get the ball to him, then it was whether the Blue Devils should ever get the ball out of his white-hot hands. Even his “heat-check” attempts were falling. 

But the rest of the Blue Devil lineup had no scorer with more than five points at the break, and they combined to shoot just 6-for-14 from the field. 

“Jeremy [Roach] and [Kyle Filipowski] no matter who’s going off or what’s happening, they’re going to be right there and a huge part of our game plan,” Scheyer said.

The pair of Roach and Filipowski combined for 25 points with 10 turnovers by game’s end, but they were crucial for Duke’s win as they slotted in at second and third on the team in scoring, respectively, and helped pull the defense away from the Blue Devils’ hottest shooter. Caleb Foster also helped play the primary point guard role in Tyrese Proctor’s absence, and contributed to Duke running a steadied offense amid “helter skelter,” as Roach put it, in the face of a Florida State full-court press.

By switching one through five, Florida State’s defense made Duke play a more one-on-one type of offense, which led in part to the Blue Devils’ season-high 17 turnovers. 

“Takes you out of your game,” Roach said.

The length and switchability from the Seminoles certainly did not look like it took the 6-foot-3 McCain (who watched how they covered Miami’s smaller guards Jan. 17) out of his game, though, at least not until the second half was underway (3-for-10 shooting, four turnovers after the break).

At one point in the second, the Blue Devils missed 12 of 13 shots including two clangs from deep range off the hands of Duke’s top scorer.

McCain did not get his first field goal of the second half until the clock was showing single-digit minutes, though it could not have come at a more important time. Ahead 55-49, Florida State’s Darin Green Jr. was called for a technical foul after pushing the ball into McCain’s chest moments after giving him a shove away from the play on the other end of the floor. He sank both free throws and connected on a triple after a Filipowski miss on the ensuing possession, earning boos from those clad in garnet and gold. Every second the ball was in his hands the rest of the way drew even more boos, with each miss sparking applause.

The 19-year-old had not the best of experiences playing in front of hostile crowds until late — he averaged just 8.8 points per game on the road while hitting just 25.8% of his 3-point shots (compare that to his 14.1 points on 44.6% from deep at Cameron Indoor Stadium). His 23-point performance in Duke’s Feb. 3 loss against North Carolina may just have been his way of saying that he’s stopped caring about the noise. Between that game and Saturday’s showing, he has combined for 58 points on 10-for-17 shooting from beyond the arc. To take the passion and animosity toward him and his teammates in road environments and lean into it and to convert that to success on the court is a true sign of maturity — especially for a kid who celebrates just his 20th birthday this Tuesday. 

For him to smile while putting a finger to his lips to quiet the crowd or shout “they can’t guard me” while getting back on defense shows he has taken ownership of that antipathy.

“I love playing against away crowds, it's always fun,” McCain said, perhaps shunting memories of his own less-than-stellar performances in road games to the back of his mind. “Even if they're saying some stuff that they shouldn’t be saying … it’s always fun getting the crowd going.”

In a black t-shirt and sweatpants, McCain greeted the few dozen Duke fans waiting to see their team leave the locker room around a half hour after the game’s final buzzer. Humbled to hear he had joined elite company in the Duke record books and proud to see his team enjoying a four-game win streak, he grinned ear-to-ear while taking pictures with Blue Devil and Seminole fans alike. 

He has emerged not just as one of Duke’s secret weapons on the floor, but arguably its biggest star (and villain) — both off and on the court — as the crucial weeks of the season are upon us. But his modus operandi is not to shut up his haters, but rather work consistently and thoughtfully to improve, especially by putting up some extra shots postgame. 

After Saturday, no one should be complaining if he wanted to take a day off.

Micah Hurewitz

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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