The Blue Devils hosted Gardner-Webb Tuesday evening after rattling off three wins to start the year. Duke came in as a 19-point favorite, and after a slow start the Blue Devils jumped out to a sizable 47-27 lead.
Coming into the game, there were questions about whether star freshman Paolo Banchero would see the floor following an aiding and abetting DWI charge Sunday morning and no official word from the program on if there would be any punishment prior to tipoff. However, Banchero took the floor for warmups and started at the four as per usual. His on-court value to the team cannot be understated, as he muscled his way around the floor, contributing offensively and standing strong defensively with five points and five rebounds.
Devils on defense
The Runnin’ Bulldogs brought some crafty passing to Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the Blue Devils stayed strong on their men and pushed Gardner-Webb to the outside. However, the Runnin’ Bulldogs seemed to figure out Duke’s tactics and drove to the inside or capitalized on fast breaks, which kept the score close for much of the first half. The Blue Devils adjusted, though, and, led by a very strong defensive performance from Banchero, pulled ahead and held the Runnin’ Bulldogs to a generous deficit.
Four minutes in and the score was just 3-2, with one made basket each for the two teams. With 15:55 left in the half, both teams were 1-of-7 from the field, however the story wasn’t the same for both teams. While Duke was forcing the Runnin’ Bulldogs into bad shots, the Blue Devils just couldn’t seem to pot one, as their attempts clinked off the rim. The tune changed after that though, as both the Blue Devils and the Runnin’ Bulldogs took a more fast-tempo approach, and the score ballooned by the end of the half.
The first three games, despite the Blue Devils’ wins, did not go according to plan for sophomore center Mark Williams. In Duke’s last outing against Campbell, Williams only played six minutes, and questions started popping up as the seven-foot preseason All-ACC Second Team member seemed to underperform. In the first half against Gardner-Webb though, it became apparent that maybe “Big Mark” just needed some time to warm up. Williams was a force in the paint, scoring nine points, and he got the stadium rocking with four big blocks.
Player of the half: Trevor Keels
For the third game in a row, freshman Trevor Keels opened the night’s scoring with a 3-pointer. So far, he would go on to make four more. Ultimately finishing with 16 points and two assists on 6-of-7 shooting, Keels was in full “Keel mode” throughout the first half. Coming into the season, Keels was lauded for his shooting abilities, but despite his great debut games, he has struggled from 3-point range. Against Gardner-Webb, though, he finally came into his own in that department. The Blue Devils finished 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, but every made basket came from Keels, who was 80% from distance. While other players turned in solid performances, Keels was the man of the hour for the first half Tuesday.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and the Blue Zone Editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.