After falling out of the AP Poll for the first time in five years, Duke made the voters look smart throughout the first half Tuesday, trailing 43-34 entering the break. Here are five observations from the first 20 minutes:
Duke plays catch up
The Blue Devils are addicted to the comeback. Duke started off atrociously, trailing 8-0 to begin the contest, but once again managed to claw its way out of the ditch. The first 10 minutes were filled with passing errors, unnecessary fouls and missed free throws from each side. While both teams slightly pulled it together as the half went on, the sloppy play kept the score to a minimum as the clock ticked on.
Roach and Steward kickstart the offense
The Duke offense came out slow and was in desperate need of an adrenaline shot, which came via Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward. When the Blue Devils were on the verge of going down by double digits, Roach stepped in and dropped four straight points in the paint. Soon after, Steward stepped up and drained a three, then created an easy bucket for Jalen Johnson. The playmaking chain continued with Johnson finding Wendell Moore Jr. for another three, bringing Duke right back in the game.
Jalen returns to form
After missing three straight games due to a foot injury, Jalen Johnson returned against Virginia Tech but played only four total minutes, making little noise in the dramatic game. Against Pittsburgh, however, he seems like he’s finally made his true return, totaling six points off 60% shooting in the first half while adding five rebounds and three assists.
Reserve big man Patrick Tapé also missed three straight games with a back injury, but returned against Pittsburgh as well. As the Blue Devils searched for an answer to Justin Champagnie’s dominance in the paint, Coach K sent out Tape. Unfortunately, his time was short lived and not especially memorable. He ended the half with one points in six minutes.
Player of the half: Justin Champagnie
It was well known that Justin Champagnie would be the difference maker for the Panthers before tipoff. He entered the game as the No. 2 rebounder in Division I basketball and as Pittsburgh’s leading scorer. He made his presence known in the first 20 minutes Tuesday, tallying 17 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs.
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