PITTSBURGH—Once again, Duke looked out of sorts early against an underdog, but its defense and a late surge has pushed it well ahead. 

The second-seeded Blue Devils have taken a comfortable 45-28 lead against seventh-seeded Rhode Island at PPG Paints Arena behind a strong defensive effort and more impressive perimeter shooting. Despite laying through a sore left Achilles' tendon, Wendell Carter Jr. scored nine points, while Gary Trent Jr.’s 11 points and three triples have steadied Duke on the perimeter. The Rams shot just 36.7 percent from the field and buried three triples. 

The Blue Devils were hampered by a barrage of turnovers early against one of the best teams in the country at forcing giveaways and looked nervous as they allowed the Rams to take a 7-2 lead.  

It started out early, with Trevon Duval dribbling it out of bounds off his foot and Carter coughing it up in the first few possessions. Duke never really got out of its funk until a timeout almost midway through the half. The Blue Devils were down 11-10 with five turnovers through eight minutes. 

But then Duke’s offense finally woke up, going on a 23-5 run right after that timeout, started by a Carter dunk and continued by a 3-point parade. Trent knocked down three triples and senior captain Grayson Allen hit an and-one 3-pointer and another triple to help Duke surge ahead by 17 points. The Blue Devils only turned the ball over two times in the last 13 minutes of the half.

Here are a few observations from the first half:

  • The officiating crew has been quick to blow whistles against Duke’s big men for charges in the paint. But the Blue Devils adjusted and started taking more outside shots and making post moves under control.
  • The Blue Devils have controlled the glass against a tiny Rhode Island team that has no rotation players taller than 6-foot-8, outrebounding the Rams 19-14. 
  • Duval was quickly benched after his misplaced dribble, but has come back to the floor and played 17 solid minutes, dishing out three assists to just one turnover and scoring 10 points, including a deep 3-pointer with less than 20 seconds left to wrap up the half.
  • 6-foot-8, 286-pound Andre Berry is larger than most post players Duke has seen this season, and it gave the Blue Devils some trouble. He scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in just nine minutes. 
  • Head coach Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t dipped into his bench much, with just Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier coming off the pine.