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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against N.C. State

<p>The Wolfpack had plenty of reason to celebrate in the first half.</p>

The Wolfpack had plenty of reason to celebrate in the first half.

RALEIGH—No. 6 Duke struggled in yet another slow start on the road, falling behind North Carolina State 44-29 heading into the PNC Arena locker room. Here are five observations from the first 20 minutes.

Cassius returns

After missing Saturday’s contest against Notre Dame, Cassius Stanley returned to the Blue Devils’ starting lineup Wednesday. The freshman shooting guard was quiet for much of the first half against the Wolfpack, finishing the first half with two points in only seven minutes. Duke will need Stanley to step up in the second half if it hopes to avoid another PNC Arena upset.

Slow start

The Blue Devils have struggled mightily in the first half of their ACC road games this season, and that trend continued Wednesday. Duke missed its first six attempts from the field as N.C. State quickly shot out to a 10-1 lead in just over three minutes of play. That advantage stretched to as much as 15 with eight minutes remaining in the half.

Wolfpack guards go to work

Entering the game, Duke knew its defensive focus would have to be on containing N.C. State’s backcourt. As the first half unfolded, it was that Wolfpack backcourt began to take over. The trio of Markell Johnson, C.J. Bryce and Devon Daniels combined to score 10 of the game’s first 11 points, as well as the Wolfpack’s first 20. It was Daniels who paced N.C. State, finishing the first half with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Johnson would add 12 points of his own, draining a half-court buzzer-beating 3-pointer as the half ended.

Ice cold from deep

It was another slow start from beyond the arc from both squads, with Duke starting just 1-of-7 from deep. N.C. State, meanwhile, didn’t even attempt its first trey until more than 11 minutes into the contest, when Johnson hit his first of back-to-back threes to give the Wolfpack their largest lead of the first half.

Player of the half: Vernon Carey Jr.

It’s tough to award anyone as player of the half after a first-half performance like this one, but if anyone deserves it, it’s Vernon Carey Jr. Like everyone else, the freshman big man was quiet to begin the game, but eventually began to find his rhythm to finish the half with a team-leading nine points. As usual, Carey was the one Duke’s offense depended upon when points seemed hard to come by.