The independent news organization of Duke University

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

Mark Williams has made his presence felt on the defensive end.
Mark Williams has made his presence felt on the defensive end.

Duke traveled to Winston-Salem, N.C., looking to build on its impressive win at N.C. State this past Saturday. The Blue Devils seem to be doing just that, taking a 45-26 lead into the locker room. Here are five observations from the first 20 minutes:

All Gas, All Brakefield

Jaemyn Brakefield impressed in nine minutes of play in the first half, proceeding to score seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, showing exquisite knowledge of his off-ball positioning and an explosive step off the dribble. Without Jalen Johnson in the lineup, his offensive contributions on the wing are going to be crucial going forward.

Not on a pick-and-roll

For the first five minutes of the game, it seemed like every offensive possession for the Blue Devils involved a Mark Williams screen that provided the opportunity to get into a pick-and-roll. But whether it was DJ Steward rejecting the opportunity at the side to instead grab an iso, or Jeremy Roach stepping back while Williams slipped, Duke’s ball-handlers were never quite on the same page as the big man. The Blue Devils are one of the worst P&R teams in the ACC, per Synergy Sports, and it showed. 

But Duke didn’t come close to needing a pick-and-roll rhythm on offense shooting and cutting and skip-passing their way to an impressive halftime lead.

Hurt at the 4

It’s not an original thought to say that Matthew Hurt belongs at the four and only at the four. But against an exceptionally small Wake Forest lineup, the advantages of having a fluid athlete who can space the floor playing that spot in the lineup was on full display. His 10 points and two assists do a good job illustrating the number of ways in which his talents affected Duke’s offense.

Ten minutes of defense

Not that Duke wasn’t defending during the first or last five minutes of the half, but that middle 10 was really when the Blue Devils built their lead. In addition to Williams’ presence in the post, Wendell Moore Jr., Jordan Goldwire, and company did an excellent job of keeping the Demon Deacon ball-handlers in front of them and stifling drive-and-kick opportunities. The frustration seemed to mount on Wake Forest’s end, with Demon Deacon head coach Steve Forbes getting ejected with three minutes remaining in the half.

Player of the half: Mark Williams

Whether it was his low-post screens or blocks at the rim, Williams affected nearly every play in the half. His six points and five rebounds undersell his impact on the defensive end, where Wake Forest was clearly opting to dribble away from him whenever it got the chance. The Demon Deacons tried to pull him high in pick-and-rolls and have their ball-handlers snake to keep him away from the rim, but the Blue Devil lead would not abate.


Share and discuss “Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Wake Forest” on social media.