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

Wendell Moore Jr. put up eight points on perfect shooting in the opening 20 minutes.
Wendell Moore Jr. put up eight points on perfect shooting in the opening 20 minutes.

NEW YORK—The Blue Devils got their season started Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, and a top-10 duel with Kentucky has lived up to the hype so far. With Duke holding a 39-35 lead at the intermission, here are some observations.

The Mecca

There’s a reason people call it the World’s Most Famous Arena. This matchup has been circled on everyone’s calendars for months, and the location just added to the anticipation. After a year of virtually no fans in attendance, Duke and Kentucky supporters came out in droves for this one, with both fanbases making a whole lot of noise throughout the pregame hoopla and opening 20 minutes. Chants of “Let’s Go Duke” and “Go Big Blue” have been juxtaposed, and Knicks stars Julius Randle and RJ Barrett were shown on the jumbotron to roaring applause. All that put together, and the buzz is palpable.  

No surprises with starters

As expected, Mike Krzyzewski trotted out Jeremy Roach, Trevor Keels, Wendell Moore Jr., Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams for tipoff. That unit, which brings an imposing blend of length and versatility to the table, was actually unable to build a substantial lead over the first few minutes. Once Theo John and Joey Baker entered the contest with 16:58 and 16:48 to go in the half, respectively, the score was knotted at 6-6. Defensively, the opening unit was fairly adept at getting out to shooters and did not get burned in the pick and roll. As for what this bodes for the future, things may change depending on matchups, but for now, it seems like the Blue Devils have a set first five. 

Paolo’s performance

Well, college basketball got its first impression of Paolo Banchero. The Seattle native had some highlights, particularly a jam off a baseline cut with just over 11 minutes left in the period. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski utilized his uber-talented freshman in a variety of ways, with Banchero serving as an initiator, screener and post presence. For the half, the former five-star had 12 points on 50% efficiency, along with four rebounds and a +3 plus/minus. 

Battle of the Bigs

From the jump, Mark Williams and Oscar Tshiebwe were tussling on the interior. The two centers fought for putbacks on their respective offensive possessions, making each other’s lives exceedingly difficult. Put together, they pulled in 14 total rebounds and 10 offensive boards, and the duo owned a major chunk of the paint when they were both on the court. Don’t expect the final stanza to be any dissimilar; Williams and Tshiebwe notched 20 combined minutes and will be getting a solid breather at the break. 

Player of the Half: Wendell Moore Jr.

The junior wing looked in control and served as an engine for the Blue Devils throughout the half. Moore was efficient—he shot 4-of-4 from the floor—and was a willing distributor with two assists. Plus, he threw down a vicious one-handed jam to give Duke a three-point lead early on, sending the Blue Devil contingent into a frenzy. As a trendy X-factor candidate and a newly named captain, Moore had a spotlight on him heading into the year. He has delivered so far.

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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