HALFTIME REPORT: Duke basketball vs. Wisconsin

INDIANAPOLIS—With 20 minutes remaining to decide the national championship, it is only fitting that the two best teams in college basketball are neck and neck.

Duke is tied with Wisconsin 31-31 through the first half of play in the NCAA championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Although the lightning pace of the Blue Devils seemed to be too much for Wisconsin in the early going, Duke went cold for a five-minute stretch, allowing the Badgers to fight their way back into the game and send us to half knotted up.

The matchup the entire basketball world was looking at—Jahlil Okafor on Frank Kaminsky—lived up to the hype in the first half. Kaminsky threw the first punch, hitting a 3-pointer to put Wisconsin on the board and then drew a charge on the other end of the court. But Okafor answered back, following Tyus Jones miss and flushing it home. The Badger big got the best of Okafor, outscoring the ACC Player of the Year 7-6 in the first half.

The Badgers would go up 10-6 after Nigel Hayes drained a triple and Kaminsky converted 1-of-2 from the charity stripe off a foul from Marshall Plumlee.

But the Blue Devils would answer back, as Cook found Okafor free under the basket for a two-handed slam and Amile Jefferson then hit Grayson Allen in transition, who avoided Kaminsky for the up-and-under layup to put Duke back ahead 13-12.

The scoring onslaught continued for Duke, who spread the ball around, with Allen, Winslow, Okafor and Cook all converting two-point opportunities in the next two minutes to put the Blue Devils up 21-16 with 9:00 remaining in the half.

Things would slow down for Duke, as it went 1-of-5 in the next five minutes, allowing Wisconsin to fight its way back in the game, as the Badgers would eventually take a 24-23 lead on a Kaminsky and-one.

Wisconsin entered the contest as the most efficient offense in the history of statistician Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, but the Blue Devils have done a good job of holding it in check in the first half. Throwing a myriad of different lineups at the Badgers, Duke has fought around screens and Okafor has managed Kaminsky on the perimeter after the first triple to hold Wisconsin to 39 percent shooting from the field.

Observations from the first half:

  • After the Wisconsin run, Duke went to a 2-3 zone with Okafor on the bench. Although the matchup ended with an undersized Allen guarding Kaminsky, the Badgers could not take advantage of the mismatch
  • The game was a tight one throughout, but especially in the final five minutes of the period, as neither team could claw itself to a lead greater than two points
  • Wisconsin did itself no favors from the charity stripe, shooting just 3-of-7 through the first 20 minutes
  • Tyus Jones came in a provided a spark on both ends of the floor, guarding point guards Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson—who combined for three points—and dropping four of his own on the other end of the court.
  • For a team whose main downfall has been size, Duke—i.e. Justise Winslow—had a good old-fashioned bock party in the first half. Winslow came up with three huge swats and Duke would end the half with five
  • Although technically not from the first half, prior to tip, the national anthem was played by a brass band of more than 100 members as a bald eagle flew in and landed at the crescendoed ending

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