5 observations from No. 4-seed Duke men's basketball's first half against Vermont

Mark Mitchell slams the ball home during the first half of Duke's matchup with Vermont.
Mark Mitchell slams the ball home during the first half of Duke's matchup with Vermont.

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—The fourth-seeded Blue Devils headed to the Big Apple for the second time this season for Friday evening’s NCAA tournament opener, playing No. 13-seed Vermont. The Catamounts have kept Duke honest through 20 minutes of play at the Barclays Center, but the Blue Devils hold a 34-29 lead nonetheless: 

Back with a bang

After two offensively lackluster showings, Duke returned with a bang to open its NCAA tournament with a 6-0 run to start the contest. While exhibiting shakiness at times, the Blue Devils showed flashes of their potential through the opening five minutes, capped off by a smooth three from senior guard Jeremy Roach. From there, the offensive train was rolling as Mark Mitchell earned two dunks in less than a minute, bookending a three from sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor to go on another 8-0 scoring tear. Duke finally seemed to separate itself midway through the half with a 10-point lead, largely thanks to Mitchell’s prowess. However, the Blue Devils did struggle to find their opportunities as the half came to a close, plagued by a six-minute scoring drought from the field. 

Catamounts hang on

Despite being the lower seed, Vermont certainly showed up to play. After opening with a three, the Catamounts made the most of their possessions and prevented Duke from developing any real momentum. Just five minutes into the contest, the team went 3-for-3 to earn a 10-9 lead heading into the first media timeout. Even as the Blue Devils played tough defense, Vermont continuously hit the difficult shots to keep itself neck-and-neck for the beginning of the game. The Catamounts forced Duke to use its rotation as foul trouble came into play as well, allowing them to play against substitutes for substantial portions of the half. Turnovers also helped Vermont remain in the game, as a series of three turnovers in a 30-second span led to a big Catamount three to pull them within five. A trey from TJ Long and a bucket from Shamir Bogues made it a two-point matchup, but McCain came up with a clutch triple to steer the Blue Devils toward safer territory.

Defensive excellence early

Duke looked strong on the defensive end early on, largely propelled by the efforts of sophomore center Kyle Filipowski. Garnering both a block and a steal through the first three minutes of play, he looked sharp as the Blue Devils looked to stifle the Catamounts. Duke’s defensive stringency led to a three-minute scoring drought for Vermont after it opened with a 3-pointer, allowing the team to jump in front. Even though the Catamounts kept finding ways to make buckets through the early goings, the Blue Devils silenced them for a two-minute-and-thirty-two second stretch to build up a lead. Duke refused to let up as time went on with relentless defensive pressure, forcing Vermont to miss on six straight shots by the time the under-eight media timeout was called. The team’s effort was epitomized with just more than six minutes left to go as junior guard Jaylen Blakes turned a steal into a layup on the offensive end.

Free throws make the difference

While the Blue Devils found scoring success, it was their work from the charity stripe that made the difference. Vermont fouled Duke seven times through the first 10 minutes, allowing head coach Jon Scheyer’s squad to enter the bonus with 9:40 left in the half. The Blue Devils took advantage, going 11-for-16 on free throws to separate themselves from their opponents. The Catamounts, on the other hand, got no opportunities through 13 minutes of play from the free-throw line, and only three total by the end of the half, missing all.

Player of the half: Mark Mitchell

The sophomore forward seemed eager for a return to the March Madness stage after he missed the team’s round of 32 game against Tennessee last year, putting on an offensive masterclass through the early aughts of the matchup. His two dunks in less than a minute helped Duke build up a lead after trading scoring possessions with the Catamounts in the opening stages. He continued to dominate on the offensive end from there, garnering another dunk at the 11:41 mark to get the Barclays Center crowd on its feet. He continued to have his way in the paint, evading defenders to get the easy layups. His work on the defensive glass was excellent as well as he racked up three rebounds to go with his 11 points on the half. 

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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