GREENVILLE, S.C.—After seventh-seeded South Carolina picked up its first NCAA tournament win in 44 years Friday night, the Gamecocks were looking to make it a pair of victories in their home state.
At halftime, though, it is the East region's highest remaining seed that holds the upper hand in an ugly affair.
No. 2 seed Duke leads South Carolina 30-23 after one half of play at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena thanks to one of its best first-half defensive efforts of the season. Junior Grayson Allen has led the Blue Devils' offensive charge with nine points as SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell has carried the offensive burden for the Gamecocks—he has 11 of their 23 points so far.
Although Duke leads because of its defense and South Carolina's poor shooting, the Blue Devils missed several chances to stretch out an early lead. Duke already has 13 turnovers, has surrendered 12 offensive rebounds and has four players with at least two fouls.
In the just first 4:09, both teams combined for six fouls as South Carolina—which entered Sunday with the nation's fourth-best adjusted defensive efficiency, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy—looked to make it a physical battle from the outset.
But head coach Mike Krzyzewski's team provided plenty of defensive energy of its own to set the tone in the early going.
The Blue Devils have forced the Gamecocks into five turnovers and South Carolina is shooting just 20.0 percent from the field despite plenty of wide open looks from 2- and 3-point range. Amile Jefferson has provided plenty of defensive resistance down low, already tallying five blocks and consistently impacting Gamecock shots in the paint.
After South Carolina grabbed control of the lead at 14-13, Duke held its opponent scoreless for 6:16, using an 11-0 run to pull ahead as Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones drained consecutive triples to give the Blue Devils some breathing room. Jones has also spent much of the half latched onto Thornwell on the defensive end, though he is one of the players with two fouls.
Jackson has three fouls, and Tatum and sophomore Luke Kennard have two.
The Gamecocks would not fade, however, sticking with their usual aggressive mindset on both ends of the floor. Despite going behind, South Carolina pushed back, narrowing the margin to as few as five with a P.J. Dozier triple with a little less than three minutes to play in the half.
Here are some observations from the first half:
- The Blue Devils took advantage of South Carolina's defensive tenacity—the Gamecocks put Duke into the bonus just before the 12-minute mark and it capitalized, going 9-of-10 from the charity stripe in the first 20 minutes.
- The Blue Devils have been on fire from long range once again, going 5-of-8 from beyond the arc to overcome their turnover woes.
- Kennard is struggling offensively once again—the sophomore has just two points and is still without a made field goal. Jefferson and Allen also yelled at him after he failed to secure a loose ball early in the contest.
- Krzyzewski has been very critical of the officiating and tossed his suit jacket very early in the contest.