NEW YORK—Duke kicked off the Madison Square Garden leg of the 2K Empire Classic Thursday night, taking on an unranked California team. The top-ranked Blue Devils will head into the second half with a 40-21 lead. Here are five observations from the first half of play.
New game, new starters
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski continues to shake up his starters, running out his fifth different lineup in the fifth game of the season. Thursday night, freshman forward Wendell Moore got the nod, joining Tre Jones, Cassius Stanley, Matthew Hurt and Vernon Carey Jr. in the starting lineup. Moore assisted Carey for the Blue Devils’ first bucket of the game, knocking down a 3-pointer of his own the next Duke possession.
Improvement from outside
After shooting an ice-cold 25 percent from beyond the arc against Georgia State Friday, the Blue Devils heated up from outside, shooting 6-of-17 on 3-pointers. Five different Duke players connected from deep, though both Alex O’Connell and Hurt missed multiple attempts.
Coming off a career-high 31-point performance, Jones was surprisingly quiet against the Golden Bears, deferring to his teammates to carry the scoring load, not scoring his first points until well into the half. The sophomore point guard scored just eight points on seven attempts, though he notched a team-high six assists and 20 minutes.
Coming into the contest against California, Duke’s lowest output in a single half was 33 points. A lethargic start had the Blue Devils challenging this season low, but they started to go on an offensive tear as the half progressed. The Golden Bears’ own offensive struggles allowed Duke to maintain a comfortable lead.
Player of the half: Vernon Carey Jr.
With the Blue Devils slumping out of the gate, it was Carey that helped Duke weather the storm, tallying 21 points and seven rebounds. His impact was also felt on the defensive end, picking up two blocks. After seemingly losing his man after shifting to help on the ball-handler, Carey picked up a highlight-reel block on Golden Bear center Andre Kelly with 13 minutes left in the period, preventing California from picking up an early four-point lead.
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