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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Syracuse

Javin DeLaurier was one of the Blue Devils struggling with foul trouble, though he played well inside.
Javin DeLaurier was one of the Blue Devils struggling with foul trouble, though he played well inside.

Syracuse, N.Y.—Playing in front of a raucous Carrier Dome crowd, the Orange’s 2-3 zone effectively slowed down No. 9 Duke’s offense, though the Blue Devils lead 40-36 heading to the locker room thanks to a late surge. Here are five observations from the opening period.

Zoned out: 

Syracuse, if nothing else, is known for suffocating opponents with a constant 2-3 zone defense. And unfortunately for Duke, it struggled to find an early answer on the offensive side of the ball. The Blue Devils’ first three offensive possessions ended with bricks, as Duke struggled to find clean looks from the perimeter.

The Blue Devils continued to struggle on all fronts in getting its offense going early. Syracuse’s packed-in defense forced eight turnovers. Furthermore, the Orange’s ability to get back early neutralized easy transition buckets that Duke has thrived on all season.

Pure isolation: 

The Orange aren’t necessarily known for a fluid team offensive scheme, but that didn’t slow the home team down thanks to strong individual plays from Syracuse’s stars. Elijah Hughes cooked Duke’s wings in one-on-one defensive situations, shaking the likes of Cassius Stanley and Wendell Moore Jr. for a variety of mid-range jumpers and floaters. 

Syracuse’s Marek Dolezaj generated similar looks for himself, slipping past Duke’s interior defense to score easy layups all evening, accounting for 10 points.

Fouling it up:

Although on paper the Blue Devils have the depth to match up with Syracuse, arguably this squad’s biggest strength was neutralized due to early whistles. Matthew Hurt, one of Duke’s most dangerous threats from outside, was taken out of the game early with two fouls in the first four minutes. Senior captain Javin DeLaurier didn’t fare much better, getting whistled twice in his first minute of action on the floor. The Blue Devils notched six fouls before the under-12 media timeout, largely due to over-aggressive defense.

The Blue Devils ended the half with 10 fouls, with at least two on DeLaurier, Hurt and Vernon Carey Jr.

Crashing the glass:

As one of the longest teams in the country, Syracuse presents a unique challenge for the Blue Devils in terms of grabbing the needed boards for offensive possessions. Duke struggled in the early going on the glass, with the Orange taking advantage of their size to dominate second chance points.

However, as the Blue Devils favored size by leaning on the likes of Carey and DeLaurier, the Blue Devils finally began to take advantage of their physical gifts to save missed possessions. Both teams battled on the boards all evening, with Duke leading 21-17.

Player of the half: Elijah Hughes

Duke found itself playing from behind for a majority of the first half, largely thanks to spectacular play from Hughes, who finished with 10 points. The redshirt junior cooked two of Duke’s best perimeter defenders in Moore and Stanley, using his athleticism and quick first step to get straight to the basket. Thanks to Hughes’ early heroics, the Orange got its home faithful rolling thanks to an explosive start.

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