HOT HAND: McCain ties single-game freshman points record as No. 9 Duke men's basketball downs Florida State

Jared McCain raises a finger to his lips during Duke's win against Florida State.
Jared McCain raises a finger to his lips during Duke's win against Florida State.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— Jared McCain put a finger to his lips and shushed the garnet stands in Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. The freshman isn’t usually one for mocking opposing fans, but this time, he had a warrant.

The ninth-ranked Blue Devils headed South to take on the Seminoles in Tallahassee Saturday afternoon. A not-so-sunny Florida capital played host to a 76-67 Duke win led by McCain, whose 35 points, good for joint-first with Zion Williamson in the program’s all-time freshman record books, may have made him the most hated college basketball player in Tallahassee.

"Whenever they're booing you," McCain said, smiling, "you know you're doing something right."

Florida State was driving for what should have been the last possession of the first half when senior captain Jeremy Roach stole the ball, 8.2 seconds on the clock, and bounce-passed it to a speeding McCain. The California native headed for the wide-open basket — then stopped short, changing his mind. He took a step back so his Nikes were behind the arc and threw up a confident triple. It landed, the Seminole fans went quiet and McCain headed to the locker room with his team, a career-high 25 points already in his pocket.

With five minutes to go in the first half, McCain had scored 22 points, made six threes and missed zero shots. He had broken his career high record behind the arc — previously five treys — with 6:06 left in the half. With 4:46 on the clock, his next downtown jumper bounced off the rim and broke his perfect game. The garnet-clad crowd in the Tuck went wild — on its feet, ear-splitting-scream wild — finally free from the frustration of watching a player like that play a game like that in a Duke jersey.

"He's wired to wear a Duke uniform," said head coach Jon Scheyer.

Anger towards the Blue Devils (20-5, 11-3 in the ACC) crescendoed in the second half, manifesting in noise from the stands and feisty defense on the court. The Seminoles (13-12, 7-7) fought to make a comeback on that 10-point halftime deficit, tallying four blocks and three steals early in the second period. Jamir Watkins’s steal from McCain in the eighth minute turned into a fast-break layup and an and-one, courtesy of a foul by sophomore center Kyle Filipowski, who spiked the basketball angrily when the whistle signaled the call. When Florida State’s Cameron Corhen slammed a dunk off a fast-break play from his teammate Taylor Bol Bowen, the scoring gap closed to six.

It didn’t abate the anger. On the contrary, the Tuck got louder and louder, with McCain still the main recipient of its rage. He got frustrated when a shove from Florida State’s Darin Green Jr. didn’t draw a foul, but his retaliation on the other end of the court, after his layup was blocked, did. Something Green did or said after taking that rebound, however, earned the Seminole a technical foul. McCain made both shots.

After that, whenever he touched the ball, the stadium echoed with boos. When he missed a basket — which happened more than it had in the first half — onlookers erupted with cheers.

"I love playing against away crowds," McCain said. "It's always fun."

And yet, when all was said and done, McCain had scored as many points in a single game as any freshman in Duke program history. He also made eight 3-pointers, just one shy of the all-time Blue Devil record.

“J.J. [Redick] should watch out,” Scheyer said. Redick’s single-game best as a freshman was 34 points.

Like they did at the beginning of the game, the Blue Devils adjusted to tougher defense from the Seminoles as the second half got frisky, starting to fight for rebounds (they had 22 to Florida State’s 16 in the second half) and put up second-chance shots. Roach helped out with 17 points, Filipowski with eight and Mark Mitchell with seven.

“I think this team is trending in the right direction,” Roach said. “We’re molding into a team.” 

The Blue Devils had struggled a bit in early first-half minutes as the Seminoles played with ease in their home stadium, holding down the visiting team with an oppressive defense. A tall Florida State lineup paired with a vicious full-court press made Duke look uncomfortable on both ends of the court, and it didn’t help that starting point guard Tyrese Proctor, out with a concussion, couldn’t make the trip to Tallahassee.

"You're not gonna walk out of here with zero turnovers. It's just not going to happen," Scheyer said. "The way [the Seminoles] play ... it's unlike anybody else. They have their own style that you have to prepare for." 

Scheyer’s squad, however, figured out how to adapt to the home team’s pressure each time the Seminoles amped it up. Duke just gave McCain the ball. His perfect play (which lasted most of the first period) gave Duke a lead right at the end of minute six. The Blue Devils never let it go. Those frisky moments in the second half passed quickly; with a minute to play, Duke had a 9-point lead. The loud, proud garnet-clad fans trekked dejectedly out of the stadium before the final buzzer even sounded. McCain thought about taking one last triple, but decided not to rub it in anyone’s face.

Duke will hang around the Sunshine State for now, looking forward to a Wednesday tilt at Miami.


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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