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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against South Carolina State

Freshman Trevor Keels shot 25% from the field against Ohio State, but is off to a hot start against South Carolina State.
Freshman Trevor Keels shot 25% from the field against Ohio State, but is off to a hot start against South Carolina State.

In Duke’s first game back in two weeks and its first of three games in the next five days, the Blue Devils came out with the hot hand from the field, finishing with a 62% mark. Duke takes a 60-27 lead into the locker room, and here’s five of our observations from the opening 30 minutes.

Students are gone, Crazies remain

Duke students’ finals ended Monday, and dorms closed Tuesday. Despite that, the most ardent Blue Devil supporters decided to postpone the start of their winter break and cheer on the team in its first game since a disappointing loss to Ohio State two weeks ago. Even though the Blue Devils were favored to win this one by 36 points against an opponent that has won by just a single point in its last two contests, the crowd still made its presence felt after a three-week break from home matchups. After a 6-6 tie three minutes into the game, the Crazies pushed the team to a lead which they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the half.

Keels (and everyone else) from three

After going 25% from the field and from 3-point range against Ohio State, Trevor Keels found his stroke once again, perhaps taking inspiration from Steph Curry breaking the all-time NBA 3-point record earlier in the night. In just the first five minutes of this one, Keels hit two three pointers for the Blue Devils on back-to-back scoring possessions. The first broke an early deadlock between the Blue Devils and Bulldogs. The second prompted a quick nine-point Duke scoring run to extend the Blue Devil lead to double digits. And his shooting only prompted a similar output from the rest of the team, as the Blue Devils exceeded their three-point performance against the Buckeyes in just 12 minutes, and ended with eight threes in the period. 

Paolo’s back 

After a dismal 4-of-14 outing from the field, including going 0-of-7 in the second half, against the Buckeyes, Paolo Banchero quickly shook off those memories and the rust of the team’s two-week hiatus. He electrified the crowd with an early dunk for his first two points of the game and continued his scoring ways for nine points through the first 10 minutes of the contest. While he quieted down as the half continued, opting to let his teammates shoot (and make) a barrage of threes, anyone in the stands could say with confidence, “Paolo’s back.”

Free throws are free

In recent years, Blue Devil teams haven’t been known for their free throw shooting prowess, leading to some memorable (and disappointing) moments for Duke fans. But this team has shown it can make shots from the line and this trend continued tonight. As the Blue Devils’ overpowering talent and size forced the Bulldogs to foul, racking up 13 in the first half compared to just two from Duke, the team just kept going to the line. And through 20 minutes, they went 16-of-17 from the stripe.

Player of the half: Trevor Keels

With nine Blue Devils hitting the hardwood in the first half, it’s hard to pick just one player of the half with every player that touched the floor scoring at least three points.

But if you have to pick just one, Trevor Keels would be your guy. After a slow start from the Blue Devils that saw the Bulldogs keeping pace with them, it was the pair of back-to-back threes from Keels that elevated Duke’s game and pushed it into a lead that they wouldn’t give up. His scoring after that settled down, but he continued to push the pace of the game, ensuring that the Blue Devils would only build on their lead. By the time the half was over, he had joined Wendell Moore and Paolo Banchero in the double-digits scoring club.

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