‘I don’t know if we expected this’: Duke looks the part in blowout of James Madison

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‘I don’t know if we expected this’: Duke looks the part in blowout of James Madison


BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Jon Scheyer knows better than most the pressure that comes with wearing a Duke uniform. The highs feel a little higher, the lights brighter than they’d be for most.

“And when things aren’t going as well, you can feel like you’re a lot worse than what you really are,” said the Duke head coach and former star guard. “When you lose in the ACC tournament, we lose our last regular-season game, and it can feel like the world is ending a little bit — even though this is what all these guys came back to do and came back for is this moment right here.”

Just one week ago, these Blue Devils were still smarting from that five-point loss to North Carolina at home in the regular-season finale and the subsequent five-point loss to NC State in the ACC tournament. Center Kyle Filipowski said that he and his teammates can’t and shouldn’t feel entitled to wins this time of year, just because they’re Duke. They had to fight and claw for them, like they didn’t do a year ago in their NCAA Tournament second-round loss to Tennessee.

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And so, here those same Blue Devils sit, Sweet 16-bound after an emphatic 93-55 win over No. 12 seed James Madison in Sunday’s South Region game at Barclays Center. This is why players like Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor returned to school. This feeling, right now.

“It’s what you dream of as a kid,” Proctor said.

Said Filipowski: “We learned our lesson playing last year. We didn’t want to repeat that.”

So, fourth-seeded Duke jumped on James Madison right out of the gate and nearly doubled up the Dukes by halftime. Jared McCain became the first freshman with 30 points and zero turnovers in an NCAA Tournament game since the field expanded to 64 in 1985. He finished with a career-high-tying eight made 3-pointers. After just one shot attempt against Vermont in the first round, Filipowski stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block. As a team, it was about as clean a game as you could ask for in an environment like this — the Blue Devils shot better than 50 percent from the field, assisted on 22 of their 33 made baskets and turned the ball over just six times in the game.

“I don’t know if we expected this,” admitted Scheyer afterward.

But he did know his team would be better than it was when it ended the regular season. The players and the coaches alike talk often about how this game can humble you. It did in those losses to NC State and UNC (though, as it turns out, both of those teams were also Sweet 16-good.)

“The silver lining in that (ACC tournament loss) was that it gave us a week to work on ourselves, to look in the mirror,” Scheyer said. “I’m proud of our team for just sticking to the work.”

That work included one-on-one conversations as well as team-wide talk. Scheyer wanted to figure out where his guys were, mentally, before also working out what went wrong on the court in those two losses. The defense had been pretty solid, but the offense hurt the defense. How could they improve their connectivity? Their ball movement? How could they learn from two tough losses but not let those two tough losses define them?

Scheyer said after the game that he felt Sunday was the Blue Devils’ best passing performance of the season. Filipowski said the key to the game was Duke’s defense; JMU scored 14 of their first 17 points against Wisconsin on Friday off of turnovers and in transition. The Blue Devils didn’t want the Dukes to do what they did best, so they had to set the tone early and often.

“And I know we had guys that were on fire tonight too,” Filipowski said.

No one knows what the future will hold for this particular Duke team, but nobody necessarily saw this performance coming, either. Now, the Blue Devils will take on Houston in Dallas next weekend for a date in the Elite Eight. The lows were low, yes — but they’re also in the past now, with the highs on deck.

“You have to be grateful for the bad moments that come your way,” Scheyer said. “If you handle them the right way, it can put you in a position where you’re even more ready. I thought that’s what it did in the Vermont game and tonight against James Madison.”

(Photo of Jared McCain: Elsa / Getty Images)





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