COLUMBIA, S.C.—It's not been pretty through 20 minutes of play at Colonial Life Arena, but the top-seeded Blue Devils are clinging to a 31-27 lead at halftime in the first round of the NCAA tournament against No. 16 seed North Dakota State.
Player of the half: Zion Williamson
Did you think it would be anyone else? The soon-to-be National Player of the Year put the very first points of the night on the board and never let off the gas in his first NCAA tournament game against the Bison. Williamson logged 10 points before intermission on 5-of-8 shooting from the field while his teammates went just 7-for-20.
An uncomfortable start
Things were unsettled before the ball was even tipped. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski came to the scorer's table, frustrated when his team retreated to the bench with four minutes remaining on the pre-game clock for introductions, even though North Dakota State was not yet on the court. And if the Blue Devils were rattled by their start to the night, it certainly showed in the beginning of the game as the Bison jumped out to a 12-5 lead thanks to a pair of 3-pointers. Duke didn't help itself on the other end, missing five of its first six attempts from beyond the arc before the under-16 media timeout.
The Blue Devils' woes from beyond the arc certainly aren't anything new, but while NDSU knocked a couple down in the early going, Duke couldn't find the bottom of the net en route to just 2-for-9 from distance in the opening 20 minutes. The Blue Devils didn't need their 3-pointers to carry their offense, given a massive size advantage against the Bison, but it's clearly a weakness that bigger teams will still be able to exploit.
Only a matter of time
To call Duke's start slow would still be an understatement—the top overall seed was staring at a seven-point deficit nearly six minutes into the game. Still, everyone in the building knew the Blue Devils would eventually assert themselves, and Duke did just that with an extended 11-2 run spanning more than five minutes. Williamson capped the spurt with a massive two-handed jam from the right block, giving the Blue Devils their first lead since the 18-minute mark.
Cam Reddish hasn't looked himself lately and the freshman is on his way to another meager performance. He's yet to a hit a shot from the field, missing all five of his attempts, and the freshman was called for yet another charge midway through the half.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."