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

<p>Matthew Hurt kept the Blue Devils afloat early with his 3-point shooting.</p>

Matthew Hurt kept the Blue Devils afloat early with his 3-point shooting.

In what some consider a must-win game for a trip to the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils shot the ball well early and lead the No. 7 Cavaliers 39-36 heading into the locker room. Here are five observations from the first 20 minutes:

Nothing inside early

Going up against the Cavaliers’ packline defense is always a tough matchup, and Duke didn’t want to test the strong interior defense early. The Blue Devils’ first eight shot attempts were deep jumpers, with their first shot from the paint coming on a Jordan Goldwire lay-in seven minutes into the game. Although Matthew Hurt and Jeremy Roach connected on 3-pointers, Duke will need a variety of shot attempts to keep up with Virginia tonight.

Saturday night Shooters

Duke and Virginia matchups of recent have been low-scoring affairs, but everything is falling in Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight. The two ACC foes have combined to shoot 58% from the floor in the first half and have connected on 10-of-17 3-point attempts. Though the pace of play is still slow, the Blue Devils and Cavaliers are making the most of their possessions.

All gas, all Brake pt. 2

The Cavaliers seemed to control the game for most of the first frame, but the fast-improving Jaemyn Brakefield seemed to snatch away momentum once he entered the game. By means of three strong drives to the basket and splashing a transition triple from the top of the key, the freshman provided nine timely points to give the Blue Devils a lead that reached as much as five points.

Paint problems

Without Jalen Johnson, Duke is a lot thinner in the post, and it’s showing early. Mark Williams started the game on Cavalier star Jay Huff, but the Blue Devils ran into times where the much smaller Brakefield had to guard the Virginia center in the lane. Huff finished the half with eight points on 4-for-8 shooting from the floor.

Player of the half: Matthew Hurt

At this point in the season, the Blue Devils cannot afford to face great teams without their best player showing up. Thankfully for Duke, Hurt carried over his hot shooting back from Winston-Salem, N.C., to provide some much needed offense. The sophomore led the team with 12 first-half points on four made triples. This one could come down to the shot-making abilities of Hurt vs. Sam Hauser.

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