HALFTIME: Kentucky 37, Duke 31

CHICAGO—Thanks to the play of an unlikely hero, No. 5 Duke trails No. 2 Kentucky just 37-31 at halftime in the Champions Classic at the United Center.

Heading into tonight's contest, much of the talk surrounding the game concerned the play of Duke's and Kentucky's vaunted freshmen and how the emergence of Duke sophomore Grayson Allen as a bona fide star would translate against the second-ranked Wildcats. But despite all the hype, it was the Blue Devil veterans that cleaned up through the first 20 minutes.

Marshall Plumlee—not exactly the Blue Devils' usual go-to offensive option—overwhelmed the Wildcats in the paint to open the game and largely kept Duke within arm's reach when Kentucky went up 7-2. Through the first 4:16, Plumlee poured in nine points and five rebounds, all from under the basket, to put Duke back in the game—he finished the half with a team-leading 11 points.

From the 15-minute mark onwards, neither team created a lead larger than four points until Kentucky went up by six with 2:38 remaining, as the defensive efforts of both squads kept the other at bay. Plumlee swatted five shots, and the Wildcats' length held Allen to no points on 0-of-9 shooting.

Although both teams employ their fair share of sharpshooters, neither Duke or Kentucky could seem to find their stroke in the first half. The Blue Devils picked up all the Wildcat guards just beyond halfcourt and applied constant pressure when they faced up the basket, and both teams were sitting at a 33.3 shooting percentage at the under-12 timeout.

Duke finished the half shooting 36 percent from the floor; Kentucky shot 43 percent. The Wildcats, unlike the Blue Devils, spread the love around, though, with seven Wildcats scoring before half's end. Guard Isaiah Briscoe led Kentucky with 11 points.

Here are some observations from the first half:

  • In what must be the most surprising stat of the game, through the first 17 minutes, none of Duke's freshmen or leading scorer Grayson Allen found the bottom of the net. Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones and Plumlee were the only Blue Devils to score before Derryck Thornton drained a 3-pointer and hit a jumper on back-to-back possession.
  • Second most surprising stat of the night: Marshall Plumlee, with 11 points, eight rebounds and five blocks, is on pace for a triple-double. Stay tuned.
  • Grayson Allen was aggressive early on, but it cost the Blue Devils, as three defiant blocks from the Wildcat big men turned into three easy transition buckets on the other end. Allen concluded the half with 0 points on 0-of-9 shooting, the first time he's been held scoreless in the first half since Duke's Elite Eight victory against Gonzaga last May.
  • Jefferson and Plumlee shot a combined 7-of-9 from the floor. The rest of the Blue Devils were just 5-of-24.
  • Along with attacking the boards, Plumlee showed off his high motor throughout the half, saving a pair of balls headed out-of-bounds that turned into points on the offensive end of the board.
  • Both teams were plenty aggressive in attacking the basket, as Duke and Kentucky scored 16 and 24 points in the paint, respectively.
  • In a play, you're almost certainly going to see on SportsCenter later tonight, Ulis found center Marcus Lee on a alley-oop lob from halfcourt, which Lee slammed home for his first points of the night.

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