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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against The Citadel

Freshman Paolo Banchero got off to a slow start but found his stride as the half progressed.
Freshman Paolo Banchero got off to a slow start but found his stride as the half progressed.

Duke had a late-night tipoff against The Citadel Monday night, and so far the Blue Devils have got a fight on their hands. The Bulldogs hung with Duke for the first 20 minutes thanks to the three-ball, forcing the Blue Devils to take just a 52-42 lead into the locker room. 

Big or small?

Matched up against a smaller opponent—the Bulldogs’ tallest starter was 6-foot-8 forward Stephen Clark—it would have been understandable to see head coach Mike Krzyzewski opt for a smaller lineup, as the Blue Devils did in a recent win against Campbell. But a strong start from sophomore center Mark Williams helped erase any doubt in whether the Blue Devils would press their size advantage, signaling that the rotation would remain largely unchanged throughout the first half. The frontcourt trio of Paolo Banchero, Theo John and Williams combined for an impressive 23 points in the first half, with two of the three on the court at nearly all times.

Three-point battle

The Citadel plays fast-paced basketball and loves to shoot the 3-ball, while the Blue Devils have developed one of college’s stingier perimeter defenses to start the season. It was Duke who won that battle in the opening minutes, nailing three early triples to establish a lead while the Bulldogs struggled to connect from long range. That being said, The Citadel nearly burned down the net later in the half to keep things interesting, getting hot and sinking 10 shots from beyond the arc to the Blue Devils’ five triples.

Roach’s resurgence

After a strong stretch in which Jeremy Roach posted double-digit scoring nights in three straight contests, the sophomore point guard didn’t quite have it on the offensive end against Lafayette last time out. The floor general notoriously makes his mark on the game in other ways for the Blue Devils, but his big opening half—he went for eight points and sunk two threes—is a strong sign for Duke and something to keep an eye on as the home team looks to pull away in the second half.

Griffin’s second act

Freshman forward AJ Griffin burst onto the scene Friday night against Lafayette, breaking out for a career-high 18 points and four threes off the bench in the win. Griffin wasn’t nearly as much of a revelation in the follow-up to his last performance, missing his first three shots from the field before returning to the sideline. Even so, the highly-touted newcomer still contributed quality minutes off the bench and helped the Blue Devils to build some separation ahead of the halftime buzzer. The New York native clearly remains a tantalizing sixth man prospect at the very least.

Player of the half: Paolo Banchero

After a strong start to the season on offense that earned him the season’s inaugural ACC Freshman of the Week honors, Banchero hasn’t quite looked like himself on that end recently, posting final totals of 10 and 11 points in the last two games. But after a slow start to the game against the Bulldogs, Banchero settled in nicely, posting a team-high 13 points through 20 minutes, playing a physical brand of basketball and, per usual, looking like the best player on the court at any given moment. It’s certainly reassuring for Duke to see its freshman centerpiece control the flow of the game.

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