Currently nursing a two-game losing streak, No. 12 Duke started out sluggish Monday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but a late surge has the Blue Devils up on North Carolina State 38-36. Here are five observations from the opening period.
1. Lids on the basket
Coming into the conference desperately needing a win, Duke absolutely could not afford to come out flat against a team that embarrassed the Blue Devils on the road just 12 days prior. Unfortunately for Duke, the Blue Devils almost could not have come out flatter.
Duke made just one of its first 13 field goals, with countless missed layups and rimmed-out jumpers leaving the team down early. Even wide-open shots at the rim, typically a sign of a well-oiled offensive machine, hit nothing but iron. Although Matthew Hurt brought some life with an and-one seven minutes into the evening, Duke's offense looked worryingly rusty.
2. Cass-ed out
Although Cassius Stanley has been hailed as a go-to offensive spark when the Blue Devils' shots are not falling, the freshman guard could not get it going Monday. The Blue Devils missed their first seven shots of the contest, with Stanley taking five of those. Although the Los Angeles native was able to keep Duke's possessions alive with back-to-back offensive boards, blown layup after blown layup left the Cameron faithful groaning.
Although Stanley was eventually the first Blue Devil to find the bottom of the net, a slow start for the Duke freshman set the tone in all the wrong ways Saturday night.
3. Unconventional weapons
Vernon Carey Jr. and Tre Jones are undeniably the focal points of Duke's offense, but tonight, neither were present on the offensive end of the ball. The duo combined for 1-of-10 from the field, typically a death sentence for a relatively one-dimensional offense. Yet, it was two of Duke's least heralded players that kept Duke's offense alive.
Jordan Goldwire, typically known as a defensive specialist with little offensive prowess, showed some range with a three followed immediately by a long-range jumper to keep the Blue Devils alive despite a high-octane start from the Wolfpack. Justin Robinson continued to provide for a struggling Duke as well. Although both players added key contributions to keep Duke in it, the Blue Devils absolutely need more production from its stars if they want to break its conference skid.
4. Power Pack part two
In Duke's last contest against the Wolfpack, the Blue Devils struggled to guard N.C. State's speed and fell victim to an unexpectedly hot hand from a team not typically known for its shooting. Unfortunately for Duke, the first 20 minutes of the evening bore some worrying trends from the Blue Devils' fateful outing in PNC Arena.
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Yet again, Markell Johnson and Devon Daniels cooked Duke on drives, combining for 15 points. Daniels made a statement on the boards as well, adding six despite Duke's significant size advantage.
5. Player of the half: Justin Robinson
Robinson, who had only played serious minutes in one contest prior to this game made a case for serious minutes with an eight-point explosion off the bench, making back-to-back threes and pouring on a put-back dunk to inject life into. A block and defensive board with just over six minutes left sealed the deal: Robinson may be the secret weapon the Blue Devils need to survive its ACC struggles.