Duke took on Louisville for the third time this season in the second round of the ACC Tournament Wednesday. Relying on Matthew Hurt’s scoring and Mark Williams’ defense, the Blue Devils shot out to an early lead, withstanding a late run by Louisville to take a 30-29 edge entering the break. Here are five observations from the first 20 minutes:
Duke could not find the bottom of the net from long range against Louisville, regressing to old habits of jacking up ill-advised 3-pointers, sometimes missing the rim entirely. The Blue Devils shot 3-for-10 from downtown in the first half, which allowed Louisville to find its footing and go on a scoring run halfway through the period to come back into the game.
Louisville locked up
Throughout the season, Duke’s defense has been inconsistent, suffocating some teams but allowing others to score off simple cuts and bad rotations. Against Louisville, though, Duke has been almost perfect on that end of the floor, as the Cardinals shot a putrid 11-of-29 from the field as a team in the first half. Williams played a huge role in forcing Louisville to shoot from long range and second guess their offensive sets, leading to multiple Cardinal turnovers.
One of the biggest reasons why Duke couldn’t get it done against the Cardinals in previous matchups was that the young Blue Devil backcourt found it difficult to put points on the board. While it seemed like Duke’s guards grew up a little early on, as both DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach attacked the rim and continuously put pressure on Louisville's defense, the duo combined for just four points over the first 20 minutes Wednesday.
As per usual, Duke’s savior time and time again was on fire against the Cardinals early on, scoring over double teams with ease and pouring in impressive buckets. The Blue Devils didn’t go to him as much as they usually do, but he was efficient when he got the ball. Hurt scored 13 points in the first half on 5-of-9 shooting.
Player of the half: Mark Williams
Williams has really grown into his own in the latter part of the season, protecting the rim and anchoring Duke’s defensive front. Williams tallied eight points and nine rebounds in the first half, making sure Louisville had minimal second chance opportunities.
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