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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Kentucky

<p>R.J. Barrett's draft stock is still high despite his polarizing style of play.</p>

R.J. Barrett's draft stock is still high despite his polarizing style of play.

INDIANAPOLIS—Heading into the locker room, Duke leads 59-42 against Kentucky at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the 2018 Champions Classic. Despite a large showing of Wildcat faithful, the Blue Devils looked solid throughout after surging out to an early 20-point lead.

Player of the half: R.J. Barrett

At least in the first half of play, Barrett showed off why he was the top recruit of his class. Slashing through Kentucky’s defense with ease, the Canadian finished the half with 20 points including a pair of threes. Barrett was also able to stay out of foul trouble for much of the half, allowing him to stay on the court for a majority of minutes.

Marques Bolden gets the start

With questions surrounding the Blue Devils in terms of who would slot in as the fifth man behind Duke’s starting freshmen, the Blue Devils opted to go big with Bolden to match Kentucky’s size in the paint. However, head coach Mike Krzyzewski was quick to take Bolden out in favor of junior captain Javin DeLaurier less than five minutes into the contest. Either way, the Blue Devil junior was effective in the minutes he played, operating smoothly in the post despite Kentucky’s size.

The Blue Devil freshmen are strong on defense

Facing one of the toughest teams in the nation in terms of driving in the paint, Duke looked undeterred. Junior captain Jack White was on point throughout the half, shutting down Kentucky’s lanes and starving its wings. Freshman Tre Jones showed out a full court press that shut Quade Green down for much of the half. 

Foul trouble may haunt Duke.

In just four minutes of play, DeLaurier notched three fouls and spent much of his time in the first half on the bench. Williamson also struggled, earning a pair himself. Duke reached the double bonus just over 11 minutes into play. Foul trouble forced senior Antonio Vrankovic into the contest earlier than expected, giving the Wildcats a chance to cut into Duke’s lead.

Duke looks sharp from the three

For a team with potential weaknesses from distance, the Blue Devils didn’t show it in the first half. Sharpshooters like Cam Reddish and Tre Jones were on point, but Duke also saw some contributions from Williamson and Barrett, making 6-of-11 attempts as a team.


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