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

Freshman Paolo Banchero shined for the first 20 minutes.
Freshman Paolo Banchero shined for the first 20 minutes.

Well, who would have expected this? In its first matchup against a No. 1 team since the 2013-14 season, Duke goes into the locker room leading 45-42 against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, freshman Paolo Banchero leading the way for the Blue Devils with 20 points.

Crowd presence

T-Mobile Arena is packed, and it is bouncing. Not a single fan found themselves using their seat at tip. 

In what many of the Blue Devil faithful watching at home may have expected to be a packed house of Bulldog fans, Duke fans showed up in scores right before tip. Lots of the lighter blue kept the noise up throughout the half, contributing to perhaps the second-loudest fan presence in college basketball. One would think continuous noise would favor Duke, but Gonzaga seems to be handling the rowdy audience well. 

The Bulldog fans outnumber the Blue Devils, but only just. But decibel wise? Duke, by a wide margin.

Nothing easy for Holmgren, Williams in the Way

Chet Holmgren often found himself under the net with no less than two defenders surrounding him, and in some cases three. On his first attempt, Mark Williams sent the ball back with authority, sending an ear-splitting roar through the crowd. 

He made up for it on his second attempt, beating two defenders under the hoop to lay it in, his lanky frame doing much of the work. But it was clear from the jump that nothing was going to come easy for the 7-footer, even on the defensive end, Williams sending him head over heels for Holmgren’s first foul on an attempted block.

Banchero didn’t give him any quarter either, sending all seven feet sprawling in the lane after a fake and drive by Holmgren. The message is clear—nothing comes easy tonight.

Gonzaga cold from three to start

The Bulldogs were last to leave the floor in warmups, but the heat didn’t obviously transfer immediately after the tip. 

Gonzaga started 0-of-6 from three, and didn’t improve much throughout the rest of the first half. They finally sank their first at the 12:43 mark, with Rasir Bolton sinking the triple off a convenient offensive rebound bounce out beyond the paint. He followed it up with another just a few minutes later, but it was not enough to buoy the team’s overall performance from beyond the arc.

Still, they kept the game close through 20 minutes in Las Vegas, making timely defensive plays sprinkled with some tough interior defense, only a 3-point margin separating the two teams at half.

Slow start for Timme

There’s no other way to say this—Gonzaga’s most valuable player was conspicuously absent in the first few minutes of play.

Through 12 minutes, Timme registered just one bucket, and looked downright uncomfortable in the post. He had attempted post moves twice, only to find on the other end the unyielding chests of Mark Williams and Paolo Banchero.

A far cry from his 37-point performance against his previous matchup against then-No.5 Texas, the senior struggled early but seemed to settle in late, registering a few buckets and assists before the half ended.

But the Duke defense certainly didn’t make it easy on him. 

Player of the half: Paolo Banchero

This one seems easy. Statline, court presence, energy, you name it, Banchero had it.

With 10:23 left in the first half, the freshman drove right into the chest of Holmgren. He got the basket, and the foul and the roar of the crowd. On the very next possession, Banchero led the fast break, sending the Duke fans into another frenzy following a lob to Mark Williams for the slam. 

You want another one? 

After a Gonzaga miss right after, Banchero got the ball on the fast break and made no mistake. For a split second, the only sound in T-Mobile Arena was ball hitting hard wood, and then there was nothing but sound, and Banchero flexing to the crowd to top it off.

The freshman ended with 20 points, shooting 61.5% from the field including 3-of-6 from three, and a steal to top it off.

Why not?

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