At the half, Louisville leads 42-32 thanks to particularly sloppy play from the Blue Devils. With Tre Jones sitting without a single point and just five Blue Devils putting up points in the half, Duke's normally versatile offense has completely stagnated. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have taken advantage of sloppy play to burn the Blue Devils in transition, earning a lead. Here are five observations from the opening period.
Establish a flow
Despite having a hot start thanks to a Vernon Carey Jr. block and a Matthew Hurt in-rhythm triple, Duke has struggled to establish an offensive rhythm. Louisville's interior defense was on-point, shutting Duke's drivers down easily and forcing the Blue Devils to play on the outside. Without any real production in the paint, Duke quickly fell behind the Cardinals' high-tempo offense.
Turnovers were the early nail in the coffin for the Blue Devils, with ball-handlers and bigs alike coughing the ball up easily. Without any real flow to start, Duke left the door wide open for an early scoring haymaker from the visiting team.
However, when Duke found itself on its back foot with a double-digit deficit, the Blue Devils finally found a rhythm with just under six minutes left. After an incredibly physical start to the half for both teams, the Blue Devils took advantage of Louisville foul trouble to take Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch off the board. Although Duke was able to shave the deficit to five at one point, it wasn't enough to head to the locker room with a lead.
Guards are the key
Although on paper Duke has one of the best defensive backcourts in the nation, the Cardinal guards came to play in the opening half, especially on the defensive end. The Blue Devils coughed the ball up 10 times, largely due to smart double-teams from Louisville's Lamarr Kimble and Darius Perry. On the other end, Perry and Kimble facilitated enough offense to give the Cardinals open looks for its bigs, putting pressure on Duke's normally stout defense.
Unfortunately for Duke, the Blue Devils' prized guards struggled to get much done in the early going. Jones went 0-for-4 from the field, an uncharacteristically cold night that included a particularly ugly airball at the 10-minute mark.
More of a sprint than a marathon
With Louisville's defense creating enough disruption to force Duke into committing turnovers, the Cardinals capitalized on these opportunities to run the Blue Devils off the floor in transition. Louisville scored 15 points off turnovers and 12 points in transition, torching Duke's normally disciplined system. The high-paced transition play completely negated Duke's normally stingy half-court defense, with the Cardinals easily running past the likes of Jones and Jordan Goldwire on the break.
If the Blue Devils can't find a stopper for Louisville's transition machine, Duke will struggle to find a second leg for a comeback.
Kings of the paint
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Heading into tonight's matchup, the Blue Devils knew they needed to focus first and foremost on limiting Louisville's bigs. Unfortunately for Duke, the Blue Devils didn't start the evening with the answers they needed on defense. The Cardinals' transition game made short work of a sluggish Duke defense, while the Blue Devils' go-to scorers were held in check.
Notably absent for the Blue Devils was a silent half from Carey. The freshman star attempted just two shots in the half thanks to four turnovers, effectively removing Duke's most prolific offensive weapon.
Player of the half: David Johnson
Louisville's game plan thus far has been a perfect storm for forcing the Blue Devils to beat themselves, and the Cardinals' backcourt has capitalized emphatically. Johnson has sparked the Cardinals' brutal fast break offense, taking advantage of lazy Duke passing to the tune of 15 points. As long as Louisville continues to win the guard battle, the Blue Devils will have a tough time pulling off the comeback victory.