Duke basketball: Blue Devils throw Jon Scheyer block party

Duke basketball head coach Jon Scheyer (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball head coach Jon Scheyer (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Duke basketball team threw its new head coach Jon Scheyer a block party in Cameron. 

The first edition of this new era of the greatest rivalry in college sports landed in favor of the Duke basketball program.

All things equal, this felt like a much bigger game for the Blue Devils than it did North Carolina.

Jon Scheyer notched his first win against the Tar Heels, 63-57, in a back-and-forth defensive battle and the joy on his face following the victory was evident, and for good reason.

The past six months has been constant chatter how last season ended for Duke and the fact that North Carolina ended the career of Mike Krzyzewski.

Well, Scheyer started his in grand fashion on Saturday night.

This Duke team has been anchored by its defense and rebounding all season and it was on full display against the Heels.

Duke (17-6, 8-4 ACC) kept another opponent to a season low in points making it the ninth time it’s done that this season.

As important of a game this was for Scheyer, it will be the game that is remember as Dereck Lively breakout show.

Coming into the game, most people considered it a foregone conclusion that North Carolina star center Armando Bacot would have a field day against the Duke frontcourt.

Bacot came into last night’s game averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds per contest with dominating performances throughout the year and only looking at the numbers it was difficult to envision the Blue Devils slowing him down.

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However, Bacot finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds on 6-of-12 shooting, but North Carolina’s offense was not able to get him a shot in the final 12 minutes of the game and Lively was a major reason.

The Duke center was able to hold his own when Armando Bacot received the ball in the post and altered or blocked nearly every shot attempt and Lively finally looked like the No. 1 recruit in the country last night.

He was enthusiastic, moving differently, attacking driving defenders, and rebounding with a purpose. Lively also netted the most important bucket of the game for Duke by dunking a missed layup off the glass by Jeremy Roach to go up two, 59-57, with 1:33 to play.

Duke basketball captain makes impact felt throughout team

In a game where he was needed more than ever, especially with Dariq Whitehead missing his second straight game with his lower leg injury, Duke captain Jeremy Roach showed up in the biggest way possible.

Roach finished with 20 points, two points shy of his season high, on 8-for-20 shooting and making the plays the Blue Devils needed down the stretch to win the game.

The team will go as far as its junior can take them and, as everyone witnessed last year during Duke’s tournament run, Roach turned into a completely different player with his aggressiveness and shot making abilities.

The Blue Devils will need Jeremy Roach’s leadership and aggressive mindset more than ever next week in road matchups against No. 23 Miami (18-5, 9-4 ACC) and No. 6 Virginia (17-4, 9-3 ACC).

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Additionally, each Duke player stepped up in one way or another.

Kyle Filipowski had an impressive debut in the rivalry finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds while showing serious grit after falling hard twice throughout the game, including a scary fall where he landed on his back and left elbow with five minutes remaining.

Filipowski’s consistency as a freshman will undoubtedly leave him in a special class of first year Duke players in recent years.

Tyrese Proctor continued to show his prowess in ball screens, especially against teams that use drop coverage. His ability to get into the paint and hit tough mid-range jump shots really anchors the offense and creates opportunities for his teammates.

Proctor finished with 11 points, five assists, and seven rebounds.

Any time Duke beats North Carolina it’s a great feeling but this one, of course, felt a bit more important after the way last year ended.

Starting this brutal stretch with a win was incredibly important for a variety of reasons.

Duke now has a  fighter’s chance to compete for an ACC regular season title after the team has won two games in a row and sits alone in 6th place ahead of its critical week.

If the Blue Devils can split its games against the Hurricanes and Cavaliers it will continue to put pressure on Clemson (18-6, 10-3 ACC) and Virginia, the two teams at the top of the league, to finish the season strong.

Duke still has plenty of winnable games remaining on its schedule but  a dangerous let down game could be on the horizon for the Blue Devils against a tough Miami team.

The next week is the ultimate litmus test for this young Duke basketball team but so far, so good.

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