As is often the case, Duke is in a close one against Florida State down in Tallahassee, Fla. The Blue Devils started off with the lead, but the Seminoles came back with an 8-0 run of their own to take their first lead of the game at the 10-minute mark. Despite that, Duke clawed back and holds a 38-33 lead at the half. Here are five of our observations from the first 20 minutes.
Osborne’s return shakes up Seminole starters
One game after hitting the game-winning pair of free throws in the final seconds of a crucial 65-64 win against Miami, Florida State star forward Malik Osborne sat out Saturday’s win against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome with an ankle injury. Heading into Tuesday night’s showdown against Duke in Tallahassee, Fla., the redshirt senior’s availability was a major question, but Osborne warmed up without Saturday’s walking boot and came off the bench in a shift to the usual Seminole starting lineup. In his place, 7-foot-4 sophomore center Naheem McLeod got the nod, giving the home side two seven-footers with him and John Butler in the starting five and posing a unique challenge to Duke’s own talented frontcourt. The big-man duo combined for an impressive 14 points in the first half, while Osborne saw early playing time and made an immediate impact for the Seminoles with seven points in 12 minutes.
Drama from deep
Through the early days of January, Duke’s 3-point defense—ranked second conference-wide—has been phenomenal, holding opponents to just 23.9% shooting from deep in four contests since the turn of the calendar. Tuesday night’s matchup, however, quickly became a heavyweight battle from beyond the arc, with both teams converting triples at a high rate deep into the half. By the time the first-half buzzer sounded, five Blue Devils had connected on at least one 3-pointer; Tuesday’s matchup might feature plenty of size and strength on both sidelines, but it will certainly take a complete offensive performance for either team to emerge victoriously.
So far in conference play, the Blue Devils have faced little trouble outside of a stunning home loss to Miami as a double-digit favorite, ending each of their four ACC wins with a double-digit victory. But the Seminoles, owners of a three-game win streak themselves, quickly proved to be a challenge for No. 6 Duke, forcing the visiting side into eight turnovers and holding the high-scoring Blue Devils to an unusually low 38-point total through 20 minutes. Complete with immense size, athleticism and talent, the Seminoles don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, meaning Duke’s second half will certainly have to be cleaner than its first if the team hopes to fly home with a win.
With Duke—the ACC’s only currently-ranked squad—in town, Tuesday night’s game is being played in front of a sellout crowd at Florida State’s Tucker Center, and it didn’t take long for that crowd to make its presence known. After Duke put in the first two shots of the game to leap out to a 5-0 lead, McLeod drove the lane for the hoop and harm, and the approximate 12,500 fans at “the Tuck” erupted. With Duke traveling for only its second true out-of-state road game—the other came in the team’s first loss of the season at Ohio State—the Blue Devils will not just have to overcome the Seminoles in the second half, but the Seminole crowd, too.
Player of the half: Trevor Keels
All too often, the Blue Devils go as freshman guard Trevor Keels goes: Duke is 12-0 this season when Keels scores in double digits. So far, Keels not only looks as if he will reach that mark, but he looks comfortable as both the primary ball-handler and as a shooter, hitting a pair of triples and totaling nine points before the break. Keels’ performance, like Duke’s, wasn’t perfect, as the freshman guard committed three turnovers and missed his share of shots, but alongside Paolo Banchero’s stat-stuffing first-half performance, Keels is a big reason why the Blue Devils are still neck and neck with their opponent after a sloppy first half.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.