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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Coppin State

Jalen Johnson showed off his well-rounded game throughout the first half Saturday.
Jalen Johnson showed off his well-rounded game throughout the first half Saturday.

No. 9 Duke finally opened up its 2020-21 season Saturday against Coppin State. The first few minutes were expectedly sloppy, but behind the play of Jalen Johnson the Blue Devils lead 45-28 entering the break. Here are five observations from the first 20 minutes.

Baker gets the start

During the latter part of the preseason, it was anticipated that Jordan Goldwire, Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore Jr., Jalen Johnson and Matthew Hurt would all be part of the starting lineup. But when Saturday’s game tipped off it was Baker making his fourth career start in place of Roach. The North Carolina native racked up two points, four rebounds and one assist in the half, and it will be interesting to see whether head coach Mike Krzyzewski turns to the veteran sharpshooter down the stretch in the second.

Steward providing instant offense

DJ Steward came into the contest as an under-the-radar aspect on Duke’s reloaded roster. The Chicago native showed off a few aspects of his game that will make Blue Devil fans rejoice, though. Steward handled the ball well and proved himself to be a marksman from the perimeter at various points of the first half. In what should be a season defined by Duke’s depth, Steward providing a scoring punch off the bench is a welcome sign. 

Hurt aggressive

One of the major topics of discussion throughout the offseason was Matthew Hurt’s body transformation. The sophomore forward showed a willingness to use that added muscle and strength to his advantage throughout the first half, a very promising development for the Blue Devils. While he still has the touch from beyond the arc, Hurt displayed a tendency to mix it up in the paint. If Duke is to truly contend for its first ACC title since 2010, Hurt will have to continue to play tough down low.

Coppin State letting it fly

The visiting Eagles are obviously at a steep disadvantage from a talent perspective, but the modern version of college basketball features the great equalizer—the trey ball. Coppin State spread the floor and jacked up shots from distance early and often Saturday, a game plan that paid off early in the form of a 12-8 lead nearly five minutes in. Despite the hot start, the Eagles cooled off from deep during the remainder of the half, eventually going 3-for-19 overall on 3-point attempts in the half.

Player of the half: Jalen Johnson

As the top recruit in Duke’s 2020 class, Jalen Johnson had high expectations going into this season. Based on the early returns, Johnson appears to be up to the task of carrying on the recent stellar history of Duke freshmen wearing No. 1. Johnson filled up the stat sheet, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds, one assist and two blocks. The Milwaukee native posed issues for Coppin State inside and outside, an indication that his skill set is polished and ready for the ACC.

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