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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Virginia Tech

<p>Zion Williamson has been key offensively all season.</p>

Zion Williamson has been key offensively all season.

WASHINGTON—Duke played from behind for most of the half against Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16 after an unexpected lineup shakeup, but the Blue Devils have stayed within striking distance and trail 38-34 at the break. Here are five observations from the first half of play.

Another costly injury

Duke fans were dealt a massive surprise at the start of the game when it was revealed that Cam Reddish wasn't starting due to an undisclosed knee injury. Although the 6-foot-8 forward hasn't officially been ruled out, he didn't participate fully in warmups and has not yet entered the game. Reddish's replacement in the starting lineup, Alex O'Connell, didn't get off the bench in the Blue Devils' second-round game against Central Florida but has played 15 minutes with four points against the Hokies.

Player of the half: Zion Williamson

Williamson carried Duke through the first few minutes, scoring seven of the team's first nine points. He missed the Blue Devils' loss at Virginia Tech a month ago during his absence due to a knee sprain, but has imposed his will and generally gotten the better of the Hokies' talented forwards offensively. Williamson has 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting to keep Duke in the game.

Open shots galore for Virginia Tech

The Blue Devils have taken a few ill-advised gambles at steals on swing passes around the perimeter, and the Hokies have made them pay with impressive ball movement and efficient shooting from long distance on plenty of wide-open looks. Three different Virginia Tech players have knocked down multiple triples, and the Hokies are shooting 7-of-18 as a team on 3-point attempts.

Jones heats up

A key part of the blueprint to contain the Blue Devils in recent months has been to leave their point guard wide open on the 3-point line and dare him to shoot. Well, that hasn't worked very effectively so far, as Tre Jones knocked down his first two attempts beyond the arc, with the second triple tying the game at 17, and made a third one to tie it at 33. Jones has complemented Williamson with 12 points in the first 20 minutes.

Barrett dropping dimes

Duke's offense in late shot-clock situations has run primarily through R.J. Barrett, not Jones, and the freshman wing is making good decisions with the ball time and time again. Although he has only scored three points, he has found O'Connell and Javin DeLaurier open under the basket for easy buckets and has an eye-popping seven assists.

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