ORLANDO — There was something noticeably different about the Duke Blue Devils as they entered the 2023 men’s NCAA tournament on Thursday.
As they took the court to take on the Oral Roberts Eagles at the Amway Center in Orlando, FL, one large presence was missing.
Gone was the two piece suit and stoic look of Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, and in stepped the youthful energy of current coach (and former Coach K player) Jon Scheyer. This would be Duke’s first March Madness game of the post-Coach K era, and they had to do it against a team that had won 17 straight games.
If the future looks anything like Thursday night, Blue Devil fans can sleep happily.
Duke crushed Oral Roberts 74-51 to advance into the round of 32, seemingly getting everything they wanted at any point in the game. Duke shot 38 percent from deep, and 48 percent from the field, while shutting down the Eagles’ offense. There were five Duke players playing in their first NCAA tournament, but according to Scheyer, you couldn’t notice at all.
“I think that’s a credit to them and their competitiveness and their ability to rise to the occasion,” Scheyer said. “I thought we had some key responses when they made their run, which you knew they were going to make at some time. So really proud of the effort, proud of these guys right here.”
Their defense was extremely impressive, holding Oral Roberts star guard Max Abmas to 4-of-15 from the field and five turnovers. The performance was from freshman big man Dereck Lively II caught everyone’s eye. The center from Philadelphia had six blocks in the win, which is a freshman record in a tournament at Duke. Lively’s length and ability not only to block shots, but to alter them has changed the identity and mindset of this Blue Devils team.
“The second half of the season, Dereck has been on an absolute tear. His rebounding, his blocking shots, he’s been scoring in double digits, too, and he’s the ultimate team player,” Scheyer said. “He’s completely changed our team.”
Offensively, the Blue Devils were sparked by junior guard Jeremy Roach and freshman wing Dariq Whitehead. The duo combined for 36 points, with Roach pouring in 23 points of his own. Both guys will be extremely important to the potential title run the Blue Devils want to make. Whitehead getting 13 points off the bench after starting the season slow could lead to more performances like this. “Coming into the game, a lot of guys before told me to be confident just like Jeremy who’s our captain,” Whitehead said postgame. “We got a lot more games to go, got one Saturday, so just want to make sure we get ready for that one, prepare for that one.”
As for chasing in the footsteps of Coach K, Scheyer doesn’t think about that at all.
Scheyer did something Coach K didn’t do, which is win his first career NCAA tournament, but if you ask Scheyer about it, he brushes it off.
“Let’s not go down that road,” Scheyer said. “He’s done everything you could do. I’m not going down that road.”
Although Scheyer chooses not to go down that path, Krzyzewski is still on the minds of many who watch the Blue Devils play—and Scheyer coach. However, Scheyer continues to carve his own legacy as Duke head coach, and with the way the Blue Devils played on Thursday, that future is very bright.