The stretch of games jumped the calendar, considering the state of No. 8 Duke’s developing roster.
After starting the season with the usual assortment of teams from smaller conferences, the Blue Devils (6-2) are in the midst of playing exclusively Power Five conference teams.
The challenges are coming in short order, too.
Sunday’s 75-56 loss to No. 24 Purdue exposed weaknesses in the team’s current arrangement.
Duke survived, 54-51, against Oregon State from the Pac 12 on Thursday before pulling away late to beat the Big East’s Xavier, 71-64, on Friday at the Phil Knight Legacy tournament.
Purdue (6-0), with an experienced big man in 7-4 center Zach Edey and a sharp-shooting guard in freshman Fletcher Loyer, had traits Duke was not equipped to handle while playing its third game in four days.
At some point, 7-foot-1 freshman center Dereck Lively will be a defensive force and a dynamic scorer on offense. Dariq Whitehead will be an aggressive driver for baskets while hitting the occasional 3-pointer.
Freshman guard Tyrese Proctor will find his 3-point shooting touch and consistently hit those step-back jumpers he became so adept at hitting in international competition for his native Australia.
At least, that’s Duke coach Jon Scheyer’s hope.
For now, Lively and Whitehead are far from finished products after missing significant practice time due to preseason injuries. Proctor has only made 5 of 32 3-pointers this season.
All this with Ohio State (5-1) looming for an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. After opening ACC play at home with Boston College (5-2) on Saturday, Duke faces No. 24 Iowa (5-1) on Tuesday night in New York at the Jimmy V Classic.
“We need some more practice time,” Scheyer said. “Dariq has been back for nine days now. He’s had one practice. We’ve had one practice with our full team. This is an evolution for us.”
And this is November, with three full months of basketball to be played before March arrives.
So here’s a look at three areas of Duke’s play that caused problems on Sunday and where the answers could come to fix them going forward.
A teachable moment for Lively
OK, so there aren’t many 7-4, 290-pound centers on rosters around the country. Purdue’s Zach Edey is a unicorn; an excellent player and a force, but a unicorn.
The Blue Devils fouled him eight times in the game and were fortunate it wasn’t more given all the contact inside.
At 7-1 and 230 pounds, Lively gave up height and pounds to Edey. Plus, Lively is coming off missing a month of work with a strained calf muscle.
He wasn’t physically prepared to handle a player like Edey at this point in his young career. Will he be at any point this season?
Perhaps. On Purdue’s first two possessions, the Boilermakers tried to get the ball inside to Edey only for Lively to steal one pass and force a held ball to give Duke possession on the other.
Lively did block two shots in the game. He shows flashes of what made him the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2022 that NBA scouts consider a sure-fire first-round pick next summer.
“I know I was a pest against him,” Lively said. “I know he was annoyed. I know he wasn’t getting the shots he wanted to.”
As he plays more, Duke needs to see more of that on a consistent basis. He fouled out against Edey and Purdue, the third time he’s had four or more fouls in a game this season.
Still, Scheyer saw signs of hope.
“I thought Dereck really battled him early,” Scheyer said. “He hasn’t had anybody stop him like that. Dereck took the ball a couple of times and made it difficult.”
Scheyer chose to leave his centers, either Lively or 6-10 graduate student Ryan Young, alone guarding Edey. When teams have doubled him up, Purdue has responded by hitting open jumpers.
The first-year head coach trusted his big men. That Edey finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds didn’t bother him as much as seeing Purdue guard Fletcher Loyer hit four 3-pointers and score 18 points.
“We were ready to live with some of his buckets,” Scheyer said of Edey. “We knew he was going to score some. But we gave up threes and that and that really hurt.”That’s because Duke didn’t pressure the ball on the perimeter as well as Scheyer wanted.
Little flow on offense
The Blue Devils collected only eight assists on their 21 made field goals against Purdue as they shot just 36.2% while making only 2 of 19 3-pointers.
For the season, Duke has assisted on 51.5% of its field goals. But, after assisting on 34% while beating Xavier on Friday, this is two games in a row Duke’s been below its average. The Blue Devils assisted on 33% of their scores while losing 69-64 to Kansas on Nov. 15.
It’s too soon to call it a pattern but it’s something to monitor. Scheyer is eager to work on this when the Blue Devils can practice.
“That’s for us to continue to develop in practice and get to know each other,” Scheyer said. “I think, for all our guys, you think it’s going to be tough, but you don’t really know how hard it’s going to be in college. Now we’ve had a few experiences.”
Proctor produced an encouraging performance with 16 points against Purdue. But, while they had five of Duke’s eight assists, Proctor and junior guard Jeremy Roach combined to go 0-7 on 3-pointers.
At some point, Duke will need Lively to be involved in rim-running plays on offense where Proctor or Roach can penetrate and play a two-man game with him. Lively’s a strong finisher on lob passes — all his made field goals this year are on dunks. Those are the kinds of easy baskets Duke needs when jumpers aren’t falling.
Kyle Filipowski had another solid day of offense against Purdue, scoring 14 points on 5 of 11 shooting. Averaging 15.6 points and 10 rebounds, Filipowski looks like a consistent weapon for the Blue Devils.
They just need more. Maybe Proctor will become that player.
“I’m just gonna keep being confident in myself and just know that I’m gonna make shots,” Proctor said.
Scheyer likes that approach. The next thing is for Duke to get consistent results.
“Tyrese is probably going through the worst shooting slump he’s ever been in and that’s part of how it goes,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I liked with him is he was aggressive and followed his instincts today and that’s what we need him to do. He’s a guy we need to not only score but create for others.”
A new injury concern
Roach, the team’s lone captain and only player with significant experience playing with Duke, injured his right foot in the first half against Purdue. Scheyer said it was a toe injury that the medical staff will have to evaluate once the team returns to Durham.
Roach twice left the game in pain with the injury, only to return and eventually play 37 minutes. His toughness and devotion to the team was never in question, but that displayed how committed he is to the team this season.
Still, the toe injury could linger for Roach, something that would spell trouble for the Blue Devils. Duke’s games with Ohio State, Boston College and Iowa will be played over a seven-day period starting Wednesday.
As was evidenced in the win over Xavier, Duke is a better team when it gets perimeter scoring to go with Filipowski’s production. Roach scored 21 points against Xavier.
Coincidence or not, Proctor asserted himself on offense more after Roach first left the Purdue game with 3:28 left in the half. Proctor scored Duke’s final four points of the half, then tallied eight more in the second half while sharing the backcourt with Roach.
Perhaps that’s a silver lining that the freshman will start producing consistently.
Duke could also use more from Whitehead, who has yet to play more than 17 minutes in a game. He’s still getting his legs under him from his fractured foot.
The Blue Devils are in need of the ball-handling and scoring he’s expected to produce eventually.
If Roach is hobbled at all, that need will be more dire.