Duke conquers nerves, cruises in NCAA opener

The Blue Devils beat Oral Roberts 74-51 to advance to the second round

Duke center Kyle Filipowski, left, and Oral Roberts guard Carlos Jurgens compete for a rebound during the Blue Devils’ 74-51 win Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Orlando, Florida. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP Photo)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Everything went right for Duke in an NCAA Tournament-opening 74-51 win over Oral Roberts on Thursday, with one exception.

Kyle Filipowski, Duke’s leading scorer, ACC Rookie of the Year and MVP of the league tournament last week, shot an airball from 3 for his first shot. He missed a layup for his second. Then he left the game after four and a half minutes, went behind the bench and got sick.

All in all, not the shining moment he’d envisioned since he was a kid.

“It was a mix of nerves,” Filipowski said, “nerves and a little bad hotel food.”

The hotel kitchen might have gotten a bad rap, however, because this isn’t the first time Filipowski’s stomach has committed a turnover.

“It’s happened before,” he admitted. “This wasn’t really a surprise to me. That’s why I’m not really worried about it. It’s behind me now.”

When Filipowski was finished, he returned to the bench where assistant coach Jai Lucas spoke to him at length.

“He told me to take a moment,” Filipowski said. “You know, forget about what happened. Just go out there and be like the Kyle I know. Go out there, power up an dunk on them. He just gave me a little pick me up, a little boost.”

Filipowski was able to finish the game without incident, adding six points, nine rebounds and four steals to Duke’s effort. As it turned out, his teammates already had things well in hand by the time he returned to the floor.

Duke opened the game against the upset-minded 12th seed with a 15-0 run, forcing 12 straight missed shots and three turnovers by Oral Roberts as Duke’s defense suffocated one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

“It’s just something I take personally, you know?” said Dereck Lively, Duke’s freshman center who was facing someone taller than him, 7-foot-3 Connor Vanover, for just the second time this year. Lively was a force in the paint, blocking six shots — the fourth most in Duke tournament history — and altering countless others while grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds. “I know I can affect things in any way, shape or form.”

Vanover finished with six points on 2-of-8 shooting and just six rebounds, well off his season averages as Lively put his mark on the paint under the basket.

“I know his weaknesses because they are some of my weaknesses,” Lively said. “So that’s something I would try to exploit off of him. I jumped in and tried to be more physical with him, get him out of his comfort zone.”

Duke’s guards also shut down Max Abmas, holding him more than 10 points below his season average as he shot 4 of 15 with five turnovers.

It was clear the Blue Devils heard the talk that Oral Roberts was a trendy upset pick for NCAA brackets, with Abmas, the explosive guard, and Vanover, the big man.

“We’ve all seen. We all understand,” Lively said. “During the season we really didn’t get any respect. From the beginning of the season, people weren’t going to respect us. … So you’ve just got to represent yourself and try to earn respect because respect isn’t given.”

The Blue Devils made a statement in Thursday’s game and will be back, trying to earn respect in Saturday’s second round, where Filipowski will be able to join in on the team’s start to the game.

“I got it out of me,” Filipowski said, “out of my system, and now I can move forward.”