STILL ALIVE: No. 4-seed Duke men's basketball out-muscles Houston, advances to Elite 8

Tyrese Proctor taunts Houston during Duke's Sweet 16 win.
Tyrese Proctor taunts Houston during Duke's Sweet 16 win.

DALLAS—Duke needed a stop. 

Emanuel Sharp scored an and-one to foul out graduate Ryan Young, and converted on the free throw to cut the Blue Devil lead in half. Kyle Filipowski could not connect on a jumper, and Houston had the ball with 15 seconds remaining, down three. 

Sharp had a chance to tie it from deep, but a strong closeout from sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor forced a miss, and that sealed it. 

Two minutes earlier, Proctor clapped his hands twice as Houston inbounded the ball after the under-4 media timeout, emphasizing the importance of that possession. L.J. Cryer lost the ball, and Proctor fell on the floor to grab the steal.

On Duke’s next possession, senior guard Jeremy Roach hit a pull-up jumper to increase his team’s lead to 54-48 with 1:15 remaining. Despite the opposition’s advances, his veteran leadership proved vital in the final moments. 

The fourth-seeded Blue Devils and top-seeded Cougars competed in an absolute classic in the Lone Star State, and Duke emerged with a 54-51 victory to advance to the Elite Eight. 

"That was a big time college basketball game," said head coach Jon Scheyer. "I'm really proud of these guys and proud of the game tonight."

With 6:53 left in the first half, Houston’s All-American guard Jamal Shead rolled his right ankle on a layup attempt and limped heavily off the floor. He did not return for the remainder of the contest which hurt the Cougar defense and took a key floor general off the court. 

Roach lost the ball on the first possession of the game, and on the subsequent Duke opportunity, he threw the ball over Proctor’s head. The Blue Devils looked rattled. A monster alley-oop from Shead to Ja’Vier Francis led  Scheyer to call his first timeout just two minutes into the game as Houston led 6-0. 

"I just told them to settle in," Scheyer said. "We were doing things we haven't done before, we're turning the ball over like crazy. I thought it was just us not coming out the way that we needed to."

But after Duke got bullied in the start, it responded with elite physicality and competitiveness. Scheyer brought in Young along with Filipowski to help on the boards, and this did turn the tide of the game. Duke did a much better job boxing out after the first media timeout and limited Houston to tough shots. Young recorded a +12 plus/minus in the first half, by far the best for the Blue Devils. 

"We wouldn't have won that game without Ryan," Filipowski said. "He was ready, he knows what to do. He knows his job so well, and it's so good for us."

After a back and forth second half, the Blue Devils needed a spark offensively, and with 6:39 left, Filipowski provided the answer. He sized Roberts up, took a couple jab steps, and sprayed a triple to increase Duke’s lead to 48-44. The sophomore center pointed and smiled at his head coach, who nodded with approval. On the subsequent possession, Filipowski took the other Cougar forward to the basket, getting an and-one opportunity and flexing toward his bench. Duke took a 52-48 lead into the under-4 media timeout as both sides embraced for a wild finish. 

Kyle Filipowski flexes after earning an and-one against Houston.
Kyle Filipowski flexes after earning an and-one against Houston.

"Just seeing the togetherness, how we didn't quit out there tonight, that really does show the growth from last year," Filipowski said. "We remember how upset we were from last year, and we didn't want to repeat that again."

There was an important stretch in the middle of the first half where the Cougars did not score for more than five minutes. Instead of taking advantage of that opportunity, the Blue Devils continued to turn the ball over and struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm. 

To open the second half, both offenses looked markedly better. Filipowski faked a handoff to Jared McCain and took it to the basket, and Roach hit his signature pull-up jumpshot. Houston continued to hit tough shots and its forwards attacked the basket. After a slow, sometimes ugly first half, the game’s intensity skyrocketed. 

Once again, Young’s insertion into the game changed the tide for the Blue Devils. He emphatically dunked home a nice look from Filipowski and got an important steal on the other end. Roach and Cryer exchanged 3-pointers as Duke led 39-37 in the under-12 timeout. 

As Duke led by four with 10 minutes left, Houston employed a full-court press and zone to try and throw off the Blue Devils. Filipowski played it perfectly, finding the gap in the middle and finishing, demonstrating his increased aggressiveness in driving to the basket. This opened up the offense and his passing ability was on full display. 

The Cougars would not go away, with Francis and J’Wan Roberts continuing to pound the paint. However, they struggled when they got to the line, shooting a mere 52.9% from the charity stripe.

Houston’s first-half offense mainly consisted of trying to back down Duke’s guards — typically McCain and Roach. While that worked initially, the Blue Devils did a better job holding their ground in the latter minutes of the first half, cutting the Cougar lead to 18-17 with four minutes left. 

"I take a lot of pride in my defense," Proctor said. "This game is going to be won by defense and I know that particularly the 50/50 balls we came up with towards the end of the game really helped us."

Filipowski hit a remarkable off-balance 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down to give Duke a much-needed jolt. In addition, with no 3-pointers and an airball at the free-throw line, Houston’s poor shooting caught up to it. As a result, the Cougars were not able to capitalize on their defense and the Blue Devils took a 23-22 lead into the locker room

Duke will now face N.C. State in the Elite Eight Sunday with a chance to advance to the Final Four in Phoenix. 


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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