Duke kicked off the 2K Empire Classic Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Central Arkansas. The Blue Devils lead 57-20 entering the locker room. Here are five observations from the first half of play.
New game, new lineup
For the third straight game, the Blue Devils rolled out a new starting lineup to open the night. In the home opener against Colorado State Friday, shooting specialist Alex O’Connell replaced defensive stalwart Jordan Goldwire in the lineup. This time around, senior forward Jack White got the nod over freshman Matthew Hurt, as Tre Jones, O’Connell, Cassius Stanley, White and Vernon Carey Jr. took the floor for the opening tip. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has clearly been experimenting with different combinations thus far.
The Blue Devil defense has proven to be great at forcing turnovers. Unfortunately for Duke, the offense is almost as adept at turning the ball over as the defense is at causing them. Duke turned the ball over four times to go along with six forced turnovers in the first four or so minutes. Two turnovers came on offensive fouls in the paint by Carey and Javin DeLaurier, while Stanley had an errant entry pass and Jones had his pocket picked. The Blue Devils will truly be an elite team if they can manage their own turnovers while continuing to play suffocating defense.
Armed with a deep lineup for the first time in recent memory, Krzyzewski has the luxury of throwing starting-caliber talent onto the floor for extended stretches of time. The result was 31 bench points, led by Hurt and DeLaurier and impressive defensive play from Wendell Moore. Justin Robinson also got playing time early in the contest, checking in with just over six minutes to play in the half.
Pounding the paint
Although Duke shot well from deep, the Blue Devils really feasted down low. Carey had five easy buckets on shots from around the rim, while Hurt was able to finish twice inside before missing two make-able layups. Hard-nosed basketball with a hounding defense and bruising interior play is likely going to define this team.
Player of the half: Matthew Hurt
Despite coming off the bench, Hurt was impressive with his smooth shooting stroke and finishing ability around the rim. The forward had an efficient half, finishing 4-for-6 from the field, including two makes from deep for 10 points in just 11 minutes of playing time. With just over eight minutes left in the half, Hurt was tied with Central Arkansas 10-10.
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