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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Michigan State

WASHINGTON—As would be expected for a battle between the two regional favorites, the opening 20 minutes of Duke's contest against Michigan State was a hard-fought, back-and-forth affair. However, the Spartans managed to win the battle of the interior to eke ahead 34-30 at the break. Here are five observations from the first half of play.

Player of the half: R.J. Barrett

Against Virginia Tech, Barrett had an abysmal first half, shooting just 1-for-6 from the floor. Against Michigan State, the lone Canadian Blue Devil made sure that wouldn't be the case again. Barrett contributed 12 points and three dimes to spur Duke's offense, using elite driving and precision shooting to break down the Spartans' vaunted defense.

Duke isn't taking care of the ball

Against a defensively minded team like Michigan State, the Blue Devils need to make every possession count. Unfortunately for Duke, they struggled in that respect early on against the Spartans. After Duke won the opening tip, a poor pass to Javin DeLaurier gave Michigan State an easy transition dunk. Cam Reddish missed the Sweet 16, Reddish's first play in Washington resulted in yet another poor turnover. Overall, the Blue Devils ended the half with 10 turnovers, which the Spartans converted to 15 points.

Inconsistent from three

Although Duke certainly hasn't made a name for itself as a sharpshooting team from three, Michigan State couldn't get much to go from long range either. Even with Reddish back on the floor for the the Blue Devils, both teams could not buy a bucket from three in the opening 10 minutes of play. However, Duke stuck to its guns and kept trying from long range—with more promising results. Barrett and Reddish combined for three makes from range to help push the Blue Devils ahead.

Lockdown defense

Entering this matchup, both teams came billed as two of the top defensive teams in the nation. And for the first 20 minutes of play, that defensive acumen showed. The Spartans used incredible post defense to limit Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett from scoring down low, forcing the Blue Devils to make just 41.0 percent of attempts from the field. However, Duke was not slouch on the defensive end either. With the Blue Devils down by as many as seven, Duke forced back-to-back shot clock violations to bring the game within single digits.

Battling for boards

Against a team with as much size as Michigan State, the Blue Devils needed to strong arm as much as possible on the glass to make sure the Spartans couldn't capitalize on second chance points. And with six rebounds from Williamson and six boards from DeLaurier, the Blue Devils managed to dominate the interior with 23 rebounds to Michigan State's 16.

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