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More Thoughts On Duke’s Win Over Pitt

The young Blue Devils grew up a lot in this one.

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 11: Mark Mitchell (25) of the Duke Blue Devils jumps to defend Nelly Cummings (0) of the Pittsburgh Panthers as he shoots a three pointer during a basketball game on January 11, 2023 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.
Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the first half against Pitt, Duke, to put it mildly, played poorly. The Blue Devils racked up 12 turnovers and made just 10 shots (we think that’s right).

But in the second, things changed radically. What was it?

A few things, really. First, aggression and confidence. Duke had a lot more of it after halftime. Second, fewer turnovers. Third, rebounding. And fourth, a defensive adjustment.

Dereck Lively has had an up-and-down freshman year to date, but no one doubts his agility or athleticism. He is quick and light on his feet. And when Duke started switching, Pitt didn’t adjust well. He ended up on the perimeter fairly often and those easy shots Pitt got early suddenly weren’t all that easy anymore.

In the first half, Duke had - there’s no other way to put it - a bunch of stupid turnovers. We don’t remember who did it, but one pass was attempted right through the middle of Pitt’s defense. Not surprisingly, it was picked off.

Kyle Filipowski has a tremendously quick spin move. Unfortunately he keeps trying to do it with multiple players around him. At times it was just dismaying to watch.

But that ended after halftime.

Pitt was missing big man John Hugley again, this time with a non-Covid virus. He would have surely helped because Filipowski filleted the slim Federiko Federiko and his even slimmer backup Guillermo Diaz Graham. Federiko picked up four fouls in 23 minutes; Diaz Graham had five in 13.

And Duke just crushed Pitt on the boards. The Devils had a 58-28 margin there and pulled down 24 offensive rebounds to nine for Pitt. Filipowski had 15, Ryan Young had 10 and Mark Mitchell had nine.

Seven of Young’s rebounds were offensive.

Duke’s free throw shooting also continues to be impressive as the Devils hit 23-27. Not surprisingly, Filipowski got to the line 13 times, hitting 11.

What’s intriguing about this game is that Duke shot poorly - just 36.4 percent - yet put the game away.

Obviously, with 24 offensive boards, a lot of that is second chance baskets which Pitt wasn’t big enough to contest. This is a thick team, as we noted earlier, but size is an issue. The twins - Diaz Graham’s brother Jorge is also on the roster - are both 7-0 but Guillermo looked almost frail when he was on the court. Wait until he (they) get a year or two in the weight room under his (their) belt.

Duke heads down to Clemson Saturday, where Wednesday’s formula will probably not work. With Hunter Tyson playing at a very high level and PJ Hall an outstanding center, the Tigers can counter Duke inside better than Pitt could. And they always play a very physical defense. We’ll never forget the first time Brad Brownell brought a Clemson team to Cameron and we watched Nolan Smith come down the court: he looked like a human pinball, pushed and buffeted all over the court. He tried to complain to the officials but they had no interest.

They’ll be like that Saturday too, and with an unprecedented 6-0 start in ACC play, Littlejohn will be amped up to 11.

So the Blue Devils need to lock in whatever positives they can from this game and apply those lessons at Clemson. That’s going to be a tough one.