Duke had a nearly perfect game against Ohio State. We don’t mean that Duke played perfectly. The Blue Devils had 13 turnovers and some of them reflected the youth of the team. They’re still not shooting the three pointer well and hit just 45.5 percent from the floor.
But for this team, at this stage, Ohio State was the perfect game.
The Buckeyes were good enough to push Duke and good enough that the Blue Devils couldn't celebrate until quite late. And this game gave Duke a chance to work on some things that needed work and to further incorporate Dereck Lively and Dariq Whitehead.
Duke won 81-72 and we saw a lot of things that we either haven’t seen yet or not seen at this level.
Let’s start with Lively. He scored 11 points on 4-5 from the floor, was aggressive on the boards and blocked a couple of shots. He also applied a lot of pressure that doesn’t show up in the box score. He’s also showing that he’s an excellent passer who makes quick decisions.
Whitehead played 13 minutes and is showing more instinct, in particular on one rebound that was really impressive. He’s not fully conditioned yet but that’s coming.
In general, Duke played like a young team that’s learning as it goes - and as one that has learned a few things.
Coach Jon Scheyer said that this would be a defense-first team and program and let’s say this, and we think it can’t be argued.
Duke again has a very young team as it does most years. This year’s team is playing defense at a higher level than any Duke team, at least this early, since the Zion Williamson-RJ Barrett led team in 2018-19. The credit for that goes to Scheyer and his staff.
The offense, which has taken longer, was pretty good against the Buckeyes. Duke scored 81, which is the most they’ve scored since playing Delaware and the Blue Hens, we think everyone would agree, are not at the level of Ohio State.
It may not be a straight line of progress, but Duke is clearly improving on offense. Against Purdue, Duke was somewhat passive about attacking the basket.
Not this time.
Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor, Jaylen Blakes, Lively, Kyle Filipowski and Ryan Young all attacked the basket.
This was made easier in one way because Ohio State is not a huge team. But they are a solidly coached team and as we saw, hard to finish off. They don’t have a Mark Williams or Greg Oden, but they know how to defend. And Duke still got to the basket.
One of the more encouraging things we’ve seen in the last few games is that we’re starting to get a better idea of what Proctor can do.
We’ve seen him hit open shots but that’s no surprise. Most guys can hit an open shot. He’s starting to be more aggressive about penetration and he dropped a beautiful pass inside to Young for an easy basket.
Transfers Young and Jacob Grandison, we realized, have seen Ohio State plenty and Young in particular played like it: he banged inside like he was angling for a WWE contract. He clearly relished it.
And Grandison had some beautiful plays too including a couple of tremendous steals.
But as you might expect from a well-coached team, Ohio State was very resourceful. Freshman Bruce Thornton, just 6-2, drove fearlessly and shot 5-8. Sean McNeil shoots exactly as you’d expect a small-town Kentucky kid with modest athleticism to do: very well. He hit a bunch of crucial shots for the Buckeyes.
And while Zed Key, who really hurt Duke last year, was small in comparison to Duke’s collection of big men, more than held his own. He finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. He was really good, as was his whole team.
It’s just that Duke was a little better and handled the game pressure that Ohio State kept up for most of the game very well.
There are still some things to work on obviously. There were some unfortunate turnovers that, if they had happened in crunch time, would have been a big problem.
Kyle Filipowski still worries too much about juking his defenders, and is still doing it in traffic when it’s foolish (however, at the end of the game he put a beautiful spin move on the Buckeyes and got to the basket for easy points). There were some really nice defensive plays that led to fast breaks that Duke couldn’t capitalize on.
Small potatoes really. It’s going to be up and down for a while longer, but Duke is coming together and the identity we see emerging is of a young, fleet team that pushes on defense, getting fast break chances and that, sooner or later is going to shoot well from outside.
Toss in three skilled big men who work well together and the future is looking bright.
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- Box Score (PDF)
- Postgame Notes (PDF)
- Coach Scheyer Quotes (PDF)
- Opponent Quotes (PDF)
Player Of The Game vs. Ohio State
This poll is closed