As Duke basketball chases championships, Tyrese Proctor helps Blue Devils find best game

Steve Wiseman, The News & Observer on

Published in Basketball

DURHAM, N.C. — Even while racking up enough wins to stay in the nation's top 10 and among the top two teams in the ACC standings, Duke searched all season for a higher level of play.

The Blue Devils (22-6, 14-4 ACC) found it Saturday as they rolled through the ACC's resident defensive bully, posting a 73-48 win over Virginia.

That it came in Duke's first game in March should not be overlooked. That it came in its second game since freshman guard Caleb Foster's foot injury led to Tyrese Proctor's return to the starting lineup is also notable.

That's because the 6-5 Proctor has the skills and experience to be Duke's difference maker as the season's most important games come fast and furious.

"When he's just throwing himself into competing," Duke coach Jon Scheyer said, "there's nobody better, because he's a two-way guard."

Against the Cavaliers, Proctor made six of eight shots to score 15 points while collecting five assists. Defensively, his primary assignment was Isaac McKneely, Virginia's top 3-point shooter. McKneely hit 3 of 11 shots to score 12 points. The only 3-pointer he made in the first half, while Duke built a 40-18 lead, was when Proctor was not guarding him.

"He did such a great job on defense," Scheyer said. "On offense, making everybody better around him but still attacking for his."

Rounding into form

This is the type of basketball Duke expected from Proctor when he decided last April to play a second college basketball season before turning professional. At the end of his freshman season, he'd become a lock-down perimeter defender and reliable scorer.

Proctor scored in double figures in nine of Duke's last 11 games last season, including 16 when Tennessee ousted the Blue Devils, 65-52, in the NCAA tournament's second round.

But getting back to that point this season has been an arduous path.

A December ankle injury kept Proctor out for four weeks. He didn't play in Duke's most impressive non-conference win, a 78-70 triumph over Baylor in New York on Dec. 20.

After he returned from injury, he came off the bench five of Duke's next 13 games. A concussion, suffered when he hit his head on the court after falling in the first half of Duke's 77-69 win over Wake Forest on Feb. 12, caused him to miss Duke's 76-67 win at Florida State on Feb. 17.


He returned the following game, a Duke win at Miami, but played as a reserve while Foster started along with senior Jeremy Roach and freshman Jared McCain in Duke's three-guard lineup.

But when Foster was injured at Wake Forest, instead of having four guards to fill those three spots Scheyer was down to just three.

'Tying to do all I can'

Yo-yoing in and out of the lineup like that, particularly for a player with NBA aspirations, can be tough mentally. But Proctor and Scheyer made sure that wasn't an issue.

"I trust coach Scheyer and coach Scheyer trusts me," Proctor said. "We always talk about everything on and off the court. We have five, six, seven (possible) starters. So we just don't get caught up in any of that. As long as we win, we're happy."

Though Proctor only scored eight points when Duke beat Louisville, 84-59, on Wednesday night, he had seven assists.

Saturday represented a step up from that and it came at a terrific time for Duke.

Scheyer said Proctor tends to over-analyze his game, harping on every mistake in his quest for perfection. But the coach saw Proctor playing free and easy on Saturday. It's important that it continues as Duke chases big prizes this month and next.

The Blue Devils play at N.C. State on Monday before wrapping up regular-season play at home with North Carolina. Duke wins in both games could very well earn it the ACC regular-season championship.

The ACC and NCAA tournaments follow and the Blue Devils are thinking big.

"We have such a good team," Proctor said. "I think we can go all the way. I'm just trying to do all I can."

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