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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Wake Forest

Graduate student Justin Robinson caught fire near the end of the first half
Graduate student Justin Robinson caught fire near the end of the first half

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—After suffering a handful of slow starts on the road throughout the season, it was much of the same Tuesday night for No. 7 Duke, which trailed for nearly the entire first half of its matchup against Wake Forest at LJVM Coliseum. A late surge, however, has led to a tie score at 39-39 heading into the locker room. Here are five observations from the first 20 minutes.

Nothing easy inside

For the first five minutes of the contest, Duke could not buy a basket in the paint. After Vernon Carey Jr. missed a layup on the opening possession, Tre Jones missed inside the next time down the court. Three more possessions down low resulted in a turnover and two more missed shots. The Blue Devils’ first two baskets came from a Cassius Stanley corner three and a long two from Jordan Goldwire en route to a cold 2-for-7 shooting start.

Another slow start

Duke has had a season-long problem getting it going on the road. While comebacks against North Carolina assuage some of those concerns, the Blue Devils have had embarrassing road losses to North Carolina State and Clemson due to a lack of urgency in the first half. Tuesday night was no different, as the visitors trailed the Demon Deacons for much of the opening 20 minutes. The Blue Devils trailed 15-9 with 12:19 left in the half before a pair of Carey free throws and an Alex O’Connell steal and score brought Duke back within one possession.

Foul trouble 

Duke gave its hosts a decided advantage in the half by fouling Wake Forest plenty. The Demon Deacons were in the bonus less than 10 minutes into the contest. This forced head coach Mike Krzyzewski to go to his bench early, playing 11 guys throughout the half. Wake Forest took advantage at the free throw line, converting on 15-of-19 from the charity stripe. Stanley and Carey enter the break with a pair of fouls each while center Javin DeLaurier has three of his own.

Switching up the defense

The Demon Deacons threw a variety of looks at the Blue Devils to disrupt their offensive flow. Along with a traditional man-to-man defense, Wake Forest brought out a zone and full-court press. The end-to-end pressure starting at the 8:55 mark with Wake Forest leading 25-18 helped extend the home team’s lead to double digits. The Demon Deacons led by as many as 12 and forced eight Duke turnovers.

Player of the half: Justin Robinson

A shock to many Blue Devils fans, Krzyzewski went deep into his bench and put in seldom-played forward Justin Robinson. Typically a fan favorite for garbage-time baskets, the graduate student had a steal and score to cut Wake Forest’s lead to 32-26 and remained on the court until the halftime buzzer, registering a plus-11 on-court differential and coming up with a huge block and dunk en route to four total points.

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