Duke freshman Kyle Filipowski’s left ankle was sore and his mood dour the past three days.
One play caused the former, that play and his body of work across the rest of that game created the latter.
The Blue Devils needed him to push aside the physical and mental hurdles, and he couldn’t wait to deliver.
Just 14 seconds into the team’s home game against Notre Dame on Tuesday night, Filipowski scored on a layup. Just before the final buzzer, he grabbed the game’s final rebound.
In total, he scored 22 points, grabbed six rebounds and collected three assists in Duke’s 68-64 win that halted a two-game losing streak.
“He looked great to start the game,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said. “He’s such a difference maker for us with the attention that he gets. He’s resilient.”
The previous three days tested that resiliency.
He injured his ankle on the final play of regulation Saturday at Virginia, when he attempted a dunk just before the buzzer of a tie game. The shot was blocked and a foul called. But the officials, going against NCAA game protocols, waved off the foul after looking at replay.
Instead of getting a chance to deliver a win over the Cavaliers, Filipowski limped into overtime with his Blue Devils teammates. Virginia won 69-62, and the ACC later admitted its officials should have awarded Filipowski two free throws that would have all but sealed a Duke win.
The Blue Devils (18-8, 9-6 ACC) seethed over seeing a misapplication of the rule book rob them of a chance to upset a top-10 team. Filipowski had to accept that he finished that game with zero points, missed all six of his shots, and committed five turnovers.
In the days following the Virginia loss, he received medical treatment on his ankle and tried to stay strong mentally. He respond with a big-time performance against Notre Dame. His confidence, he said, never wavered.
“I was (ticked) off from the things that have been happening lately,” Filipowski said. “Things like that get me going and got me in the right mental state for tonight.”
That mental state, Scheyer said, can be the toughest thing to manage. Filipowski averaged 15 points per game this season before going scoreless against Virginia’s stifling defense. But he made sure that kind of performance was a one-game anomaly.
“He’s had his ups and downs,” Scheyer said. “He’s taken coaching every step of the way. He continues to work and he just wants to win. I thought you saw that tonight.”
Like their leading scorer, the Blue Devils similarly needed to tap into their reservoir of resiliency.
The loss at Virginia, on the heels of a humiliating 81-59 loss at Miami on Feb. 6, gave Duke its first two-game losing streak of the season.
After the blowout loss at Miami, the players convened a meeting without the coaches around to clear the air and put their season on a better path forward.
The Blue Devils played better at Virginia, albeit far from perfect since they committed a season-worst 22 turnovers. But, unlike at Miami when the Hurricanes took a 13-1 lead and kept adding to it, Duke showed fight and toughness even while losing.
That continued against a Notre Dame team that in no way resembles the accomplished Cavaliers.
Filipowski was the only Blue Devil to score in double figures. But, plenty of other Duke players made important contributions.
Freshman Dariq Whitehead hit all three of the 3-pointers he attempted in the first half, finishing the game with those nine points in a reserve role.
Another freshman, Mark Mitchell, hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play when Notre Dame focused its defensive attention elsewhere. That shot gave Duke a four-point lead and essentially ended the Irish hopes for an upset.
Graduate student Jacob Grandison, whose 3-pointer tied the Virginia game at 58 before the Filipowski play, tallied four assists against Notre Dame. Despite playing only 15 minutes, Grandison matched starting point guard Tyrese Proctor’s assist total.
Grandison, in particular, is starting to make key contributions at just the right time. He’s not going to score 20 points, but he’s an example of the weapons Duke has coming off the bench that can make a positive difference.
“He is as smart as anybody we have,” Scheyer said. “He’s tough. He shows up every day to practice.Jake has been just a great addition for our team.”
He was also one of the big voices in that players-only meeting, Scheyer has heard.
“I don’t know what was said,” Scheyer said, “but I know Jake had a lot to do with that. It’s a credit to what he’s all about.”
Beating Notre Dame (10-16, 2-13 ACC) by four points at home isn’t the kind of game that puts the rest of the conference on notice that the Blue Devils are about to rip off a long winning streak.
But it did show Duke has plenty of pieces to forge a winning strategy.
WIth five regular-season games remaining, Duke needs all those pieces to have a chance at a strong finish.