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

<p>R.J. Barrett has been the lone efficient Blue Devil so far.</p>

R.J. Barrett has been the lone efficient Blue Devil so far.

SYRACUSE, N.Y.—In a surprising first half with many seldom-used and new faces seeing the floor for Duke, the Blue Devils have struggled to limit Syracuse and trail 34-29 at the break. Here are five observations from the first half of play.

Burning the redshirt

With Zion Williamson out due to a mild knee sprain, head coach Mike Krzyzewski played the final card he has been holding back season, inserting freshman Joey Baker into the game early in the first half. Despite being healthy and practicing all season, Baker had not played in a game yet and was widely thought to be redshirting after entering college early and ready to start his career next year.

Player of the half: R.J. Barrett

In Williamson’s absence, Duke’s leading scorer kept the Blue Devils in the game by attacking the basket relentlessly and finishing effectively at the rim. Barrett has a game-high 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting and added to his points in the paint with a 3-pointer from the wing.

Lineup shakeup

Krzyzewski inserted sophomore guard Alex O’Connell into the starting lineup for the first time this season and also replaced big man Marques Bolden with Javin DeLaurier. O’Connell came off the bench to score 16 points in Duke’s overtime loss to Syracuse at home in January, and he made one of Duke’s few 3-pointers thus far with a corner triple midway through the half. Junior captain Jack White hasn’t entered the game yet, either.

Beat on the boards early

Syracuse’s first eight points came on second chances, as the Orange kicked out two offensive rebounds to Frank Howard for triples and 7-foot-2 big man Paschal Chukwu put one back himself. With Williamson and White sitting out thus far, Krzyzewski called senior Antonio Vrankovic’s number before he even put Bolden in the game, and Vrankovic and Baker helped on the glass, but the Orange still finished the half with 10 offensive boards.

Settling for 3-pointers

Aside from Barrett, very few Blue Devils have found any success at attacking gaps in the middle of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. The Orange have particularly ignored Tre Jones on the 3-point line, and he hasn’t capitalized on his chances, shooting just 1-of-6 from long distance. As a team, Duke has attempted 15 triples after going just 9-of-43 against Syracuse in Durham.