No. 8 Duke men's basketball earned its most lopsided ACC win of the season against Miami. Thank its rigid defense

Kyle Filipowski (30) battles with Miami's Norchad Omier (15) during the Wednesday night showpiece at the Watsco Center.
Kyle Filipowski (30) battles with Miami's Norchad Omier (15) during the Wednesday night showpiece at the Watsco Center.

CORAL GABLES, Fla.— As the eighth-ranked Blue Devils boarded the team bus to head home to Durham, they could confidently say they’d put in a well-rounded performance inside the Watsco Center. Beating the Hurricanes in its second-largest win at Miami and largest margin of victory against an ACC opponent this year, Duke was positively electric with its 13 made threes and 51.9% shooting from the field. Yet there was one aspect that truly sent the Blue Devils over the edge in their second trip this season to the Sunshine State — their defense.

In its 84-55 battering of the Hurricanes, Duke held its foe to a paltry 31.1% field-goal percentage — the lowest of any Blue Devil opponent on the season thus far. However, what made the feat so impressive was not solely the number of defensive rebounds or blocked shots or steals. It was the way Duke defended as a team.

“I think we just followed the game plan really well,” said sophomore forward Mark Mitchell. “Obviously, we had a couple of lapses, but I think overall it was pretty good and solid.”

Through the first few minutes of the contest, it was really anybody’s game as both teams clamored for a lead. Mitchell led the way with seven of the first 10 points, bolstered by a 3-point jumper from freshman guard Jared McCain. Miami, for its part, punched back. Opening their scoring with a driving layup from junior guard Wooga Poplar, the Hurricanes and Blue Devils began to trade buckets back and forth. That is, until Duke started to find its footing. 

Going on a 6-0 run just a little over five minutes into the first half, the Blue Devils coupled their scoring with their quintessential lockdown defense. Pressuring Miami to take difficult shots in unfamiliar territory, Duke forced the Hurricanes to commit a shot-clock violation at the 13:43 mark. From there, the Blue Devils were dominant on the defensive glass, refusing to give up any second-chance points in the paint. Even as the home team clawed back with a dunk and three, the visitors got better at locking down the perimeter very quickly.

“I’m [gonna] put a little criticism on our guards … [Miami] made like four threes in the beginning of the game,” said sophomore center Kyle Filipowski. “But they did a lot better for the rest of the game with limiting that and making them work for the threes.”

Clicking at just the right time, Duke’s tenacious defense seemed to ignite on the hardwood. Over a near-five-minute stretch, Miami did not convert a single shot and went 0-for-8 from the floor in that span. While the Blue Devils weren’t exactly forcing turnovers galore, they made the Hurricanes to once again shoot difficult 3-pointers as three consecutive triple attempts missed the mark. Even as Miami tried to switch up its strategy and go for layups and jumpers, Duke stifled any hopes of offensive production as it continually switched on and off players to hinder their playmaking abilities.

As the Hurricanes struggled to find a spark, the Blue Devils’ stringent defense turned into greatness on offense as they went on a 13-0 run. Their threes were hitting the mark as sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor drained a triple and freshman guard Caleb Foster drained two. Duke’s continued defensive rebounding efforts paid dividends, as it tallied six boards in that time. When Miami eventually made a second-chance layup at the 5:34 mark in the first half, the damage had already been done. The Blue Devils’ collective defense had stifled the Hurricanes before they could even reach the locker room, and they would never recover. 

“I know it sounds simple, but it just starts with guarding the ball. And you have to have great communication, and we switched a lot tonight,” said head coach Jon Scheyer. “You can switch when you have five guys that can defend and stay in front of the ball.”

While Duke’s defense was a team effort, its stalwarts were undoubtedly Mitchell and Filipowski. The former was tasked with matching up against Miami’s leading scorer in Norchad Omier, who averaged 17.8 points per game before Wednesday. The Kansas City, Kan., native, however, was ready to exhibit his signature toughness as he limited the Hurricane star to just nine points on the night. With Omier largely out of commission thanks to Mitchell, Miami’s offense appeared off-kilter as it tried and failed to find other sparks capable of burning all game long. 

Filipowski, on the other hand, seemed right at home off the ball. Tallying five defensive rebounds and three blocked shots to go with his 15 points, the Westtown, N.Y., native coupled his size advantage with great physicality to dominate the paint as his opponents attempted to get inside. Between the formidable duo of Filipowski and Mitchell, points were few and far between for the Hurricanes.

“Flip … played great defense around the basket, he protected and he bodied up with great physicality,” Scheyer said.

As the postseason comes rapidly down the pipeline, the Blue Devils’ performance against Miami bodes well for their potential. Even though the offensive displays demonstrated Duke’s undeniable talent, the defense showed its chemistry. Come March, that will be exactly what it needs — an impenetrable unity on the hardwood that can send opponents packing.

Mackenzie Sheehy profile
Mackenzie Sheehy | Blue Zone editor

Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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