Duke dominates James Madison behind freshman Jared McCain and looks poised for March Madness run

NEW YORK — A pair of swished free throws with 6:26 left in the first half made it Duke guard Jared McCain 19, James Madison 17. McCain had 22 points at the break, tied for the most any individual player had scored in a game against the Dukes in NCAA men's tournament play, as the Blue Devils took a commanding 22-point halftime lead that expanded in the second half.

It was that kind of night for a hard-to-predict team whose varying levels of production and output belies one of the most star-studded rosters in the country.

After watching No. 5 Wisconsin wilt against the Dukes’ pressure in the first round, No. 4 Duke and McCain, who finished with 30 points, took control from the jump and buried No. 12 James Madison 93-55 to advance out of the opening weekend for the first time under coach Jon Scheyer.

Duke guard Jared McCain (0) reacts after a basket against James Madison during the second round of the 2024 NCAA men's tournament at Barclays Center.

“I think this is really a statement that we came out and put on today,” said sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor.

Coming on the heels of a sleepy 64-47 win against No. 13 Vermont on Friday, Duke’s flashy performance breathes life into the Blue Devils’ quest for the Final Four. With top-ranked Houston potentially waiting in the wings — the Cougars meet Texas A&M later on Sunday — whether the Blue Devils can advance deeper into the tournament depends on their ability to make this more than a random blip of dominance.

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Can Duke bottle the 40 minutes against JMU and carry it into next weekend?

If so, the Blue Devils may finally match the hype heaped on this team since the preseason, when they ranked third in the USA TODAY Sports men’s basketball poll as one of four teams to receive a first-place vote.

“It’s one of the best games you can have, especially against a really good team that hasn’t lost that many games this year,” freshman forward Sean Stewart said. “To come out and put on a performance like we did gives us the utmost amount of confidence as a team.”

With energy, spot-on shooting from deep, electric play at the rim and a rejuvenated Kyle Filipowski, Duke looked like a team capable of playing with and beating any team left in this tournament.

"I don't know if we expected this, but I just thought our guys came out with such a great competitiveness and they were obviously ready to play," Scheyer said. "Not just ready to play. You have to be ready to compete in these games, and everybody that was on the floor I felt had that."

This oomph was missing against the Catamounts. While more than talented enough to withstand Vermont’s handful of runs and come out clean with a 17-point win, the first-round game left something to be desired — one of the defining themes of Duke’s season.

“In a perfect world, we’d come out and throw the first punch every game and go on a run like we did today,” said senior center Ryan Young. “That’s not reality, but that’s the goal every time we take the floor.”

And after consecutive losses to North Carolina and North Carolina State to end the regular season and open the ACC tournament, the win against JMU is a palate cleanser heading into a potential matchup with Houston.

“The two losses we had back to back … I’d be lying if I said our group wasn’t knocked back a little bit in terms of confidence,” Young said. “So just to get the confidence rolling again against two really good teams … certainly, we feel like ourselves again.”

The energy is infectious, he added.

“Any 30-point win feels good. When you’re making shots it feels good. It’s contagious. Anytime that happens, the energy goes up naturally.”

Duke went 14 of 28 from 3-point range, led by McCain’s eight makes in 11 attempts. The Blue Devils committed just six turnovers, scored 24 points off the Dukes’ 14 giveaways, scored 21 second-chance points off 12 offensive rebounds and had 22 assists on 33 made field goals.

The Blue Devils also had 14 combined layups and dunks, dominating the paint and the area under the basket after failing to assert themselves against Vermont.

That post presence included a more forceful game from Filipowski, the former five-star recruit and possible first-round NBA draft pick. The sophomore had just one shot attempt against the Catamounts and a season-low three points, though he did chip in 12 rebounds and four assists.

While slowed by foul trouble in his 21 minutes, Filipowski had 14 points, five rebounds, another four assists and two steals. Combined with Duke’s outside shooting, his bounce-back game represents the Blue Devils’ offense at its best.

"I think just sticking to that game plan, having that trust and faith in one another, that really just gets the momentum flowing in our favor," Filipowski said. "And you know, it was just a great feeling tonight."

Defensively, Duke had 12 steals and clamped down on an opponent that dictated the tempo against the Badgers. JMU shot 38% from the field and made only 4 of 18 from long range. This hasn’t always been the standard for these Blue Devils, who came into Sunday ranked 135th nationally in overall field goal defense and 101st in 3-point defense.

“When we lock in defensively, we’re pretty hard to beat,” sophomore forward Mark Mitchell said.

It’s the type of game as a team that could leave Duke dreaming big — about winning another two games next weekend and getting back to the Final Four, if not cutting down the nets in Phoenix. At a minimum, it was the flashy, explosive, dominant sort of exclamation-point showing many have been waiting for from the Blue Devils all season.

“We’ve been due for one of these types of games for a while,” Stewart said. “So just to have it, it feels amazing. We’re ready to do it to the next opponent.”