Duke basketball offense finds, takes, hits better shots

Duke’s Jeremy Roach (3) scores in the second half during Duke’s 75-73 victory over Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.

Duke’s Jeremy Roach (3) scores in the second half during Duke’s 75-73 victory over Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.


It doesn’t take a deep dive through the memory banks to pull up images of Duke missing shot after shot, struggling to run plays against whatever defense it faced.

That was just a few weeks ago, but it feels like another world now.

Three games in a row, the Blue Devils have shot 48.3% or better, including Tuesday night’s 50% shooting effort in an important 75-73 ACC win over Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke’s season shooting percentage, even after back-to-back games of 50% or better, is still just 44%. That’s not even among the top 200 teams in the country.

Going five January games in a row without topping 40.3% put Duke in a hole in that category. It caused Jon Scheyer, Duke’s first-year coach, to flatly say his team couldn’t rely solely on jump shots if it was going to win.

Duke’s previous coach, a guy named Mike Krzyzewski, used to pick nits with regards to season stats at this point of the season. The Hall of Famer didn’t care much for them. He preferred to focus on the here and now, reminding everyone that teams grow as the season rolls on.

Scheyer’s Blue Devils (16-6, 7-4 ACC) have certainly done that, and nowhere is more evident than the way they’ve run their offense over the past four games.

Gaining confidence

It started with a stronger emphasis on inside-out play, taking advantage of freshmen twin towers Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively, along with 6-10 reserve Ryan Young, inside.

But Tuesday night, it morphed into far better perimeter play. Junior guard Jeremy Roach scored 21 points while freshman Tyrese Proctor added 17.

Again, one doesn’t need a wayback machine to remember how January started. Roach and Proctor combined for nine points, going a combined 2 for 13 from the field, with five turnovers when N.C. State blistered the Blue Devils, 84-60, at PNC Arena on Jan. 4.

That was an awful alpha to Tuesday’s night’s far more pleasant omega for Duke in January.

“I think it’s just being more confident with our shots,” Roach said. “Obviously, we’re moving the ball, sharing the ball, playing inside-out. I think that’s been a big thing. Guys just being shot ready off the ball. Knowing that a kick is going to come. I think that’s why we’re making more shots than we had.”

Duke’s Tyrese Proctor (5) talks with Jeremy Roach (3) during the second half of Duke’s 75-73 victory over Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Instinctual, and aggressive

Speaking of playing off the ball, that’s exactly where Roach looks most comfortable in Duke’s offense.

With Proctor’s play at point guard now a stabilizing force as opposed to inconsistent, Roach has the freedom to roam the wings and hunt space to assert himself in half-court sets.

“With Jeremy,” Scheyer said, “that’s when we’ve been at our best when he’s just playing instinctually and playing aggressively.”

Wake Forest absorbed a large dose of that over Tuesday night’s first 20 minutes, as Roach scored 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting to help Duke take a 41-34 halftime lead.

He only tallied four points the rest of the game, but Proctor and Filipowski picked it up from there. Proctor scored 10 of his 17 after halftime while Filipowski had 11 of his 16 in the second half.

Turning point

The performance continued Duke’s ascendant play on offense that started with a 68-66 win over Miami on Jan. 21.

One week earlier, the Blue Devils hit only 3 of 20 3-pointers, shooting 38.1% overall, in a 72-64 loss at Clemson.

Duke’s shooting percentage was around 50% well into the second half against Miami before a late flurry of misses lowered it to 40.3% in a game the Blue Devils had to hang on to win. Still, that marked progress as it was the first time they’d topped 40% since the calendar turned to 2023.

Two nights later at Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils shot 48.3% but rare defensive lapses doomed them to a 78-75 loss.

Still, the offense continued to percolate.

Saturday’s 86-43 win at Georgia Tech is where Duke’s offense soared with season highs in shooting (55.7%) and assists (24).

Against a better team Tuesday night, the Blue Devils shot their way past Wake Forest in ways that appeared impossible just a few weeks ago.

“We had a stretch where we focused a lot on our offense in practice,” Filipowski said. “We changed a lot of things. That got us over the hump. But also with the guys putting in more work outside of practice in their free time, getting more shots up. We’re all invested, we’re all bought in and ready to be the best we can be.”

With a home game against North Carolina on Saturday, followed by road games at Miami and Virginia, Duke’s improvement on offense comes at the right time.

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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