Duke’s Sweet 16 Game Against Houston

The first three minutes of Duke’s Sweet 16 game against Houston couldn’t have gone worse. It was a déjà vu for the Blue Devils, reminiscent of last year’s terrifying loss in the second round to Tennessee – an extremely aggressive team catching them off guard and securing an 8-0 lead before they could catch their breath. Head coach Jon Scheyer needed an answer, and he needed it fast.

Enter Ryan Young:

Enter Ryan Young, a sophomore forward who may be just a second-year college student, but certainly not lacking in athleticism. While not the most physically dominant player against a team that’s been the most physically imposing this season, Young helped steady the team’s nerves and bring Duke back into the game. By the end of the first half, the Blue Devils had narrowed the lead to just one point, with Young boasting a +12 in the box score. By the end of the game, they were up by a commanding +18.

In a game decided by just three points, this was not just significant but invaluable.

The Impact of Young:

The bench became noticeably thin for Coach Scheyer since the recent injury to the newest guard, Caleb Foster, who was ruled out for the rest of the season. While that might seem commonplace, Duke ranks 361st out of 362 Division-I teams in bench points per game according to CBBAnalytics in their last five games leading to the Sweet 16.

Key Players Rise:

Stars Jeremy Roach and sophomores Kyle Filipowski and Taevion Kinsey had pulled off some remarkable drama against Houston. But a team can’t solely rely on its top players, especially against squads like the Cougars. Duke needed a contribution from one of its role players, and Young stepped up to the challenge.

“We couldn’t have won that game without Ryan,” Filipowski said after the game. “His defense, his physicality, it’s unmatched. I thought he made a huge difference in the game.”

The Turning Point:

In the trademark aggressive style of Houston, a standout moment came when Young threw his weight around, clearing paths and creating space. His presence in the paint relieved Filipowski’s shoulders a bit, allowing him to leap for rebounds and make powerful finishes.

Once Houston realized they couldn’t solely rely on multiple missed shots to get rebounds, Duke became capable of defensive lockdowns. Especially when senior guard Jamal Shead was forced to leave the game due to a knee injury, Houston found no respite – finishing the game with just 20 points scored compared to Duke’s 49. While it was certainly a collective effort, Young’s time on the court illuminated Duke’s defensive fire.

If Young’s rebounding was a spark, his dunk in the early second half – just his third of the season – was an explosion. The 24-year-old proved he could still rock the rim, catching a pass from Filipowski and completing a powerful finish.

“He surprised me a little bit. When I see a guy come down the lane like that, trying to block [me], usually it’s a fake pump,” Young commented on the drama. Although his dunk might end up on some highlight reels, the bigger impact of Duke’s previous North-Western transfer came on his teammates. With Young setting screens, Proctor and Roach could see clearer paths and Filipowski could wait for late passes. Once things started rolling, either Filipowski or Young would finish the job, and Duke suddenly began seeing much better shapes. Until Young was forced to waste time on the bench with early foul trouble in the second half, Duke had enough confidence to keep the ball moving through trips and doubles without losing the ball through Filipowski.

“In this team, we all play our roles, and we execute them well. But what Ryan did, it was great for us,” Filipowski said. “He knows what he’s doing, and that’s good for us.”

Crucial Moments of Victory:

Key moments of Friday’s victory — Roach’s clutch shots under stretch coverage, Filipowski’s creative 3-pointers, or Proctor’s big defensive stops — are individual achievements, just like Young’s efforts in helping Duke gain control. But they’re also team achievements, where five players buy into their roles and do whatever it takes to win. That’s what it takes to win a national championship, and Duke is now just three wins away from that.

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