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Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Wake Forest

Freshman Paolo Banchero ended the half with 13 points on a 6-of-12 mark from the field.
Freshman Paolo Banchero ended the half with 13 points on a 6-of-12 mark from the field.

Duke made the short bus ride to Winston-Salem, N.C., for a 7 p.m. showdown against Wake Forest. The Blue Devils got out to an eight-point lead at one point, but the Demon Deacons came roaring back to whittle Duke’s lead down to 35-29 at the half. Here’s five of our observations from the opening 20 minutes.

Scheyer on the sidelines

The program announced Wednesday afternoon that head coach Mike Krzyzewski would not be in attendance at tonight’s game due to a non-COVID related virus, which gave associate head coach and head coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer his second turn as the big dog on the sidelines. He got the opportunity last season in the Blue Devils’ nail-biter win against Boston College, and now he has another. History repeats itself, apparently, as the Demon Deacons kept the game close for the whole half. 

Let Griffin fly

For the first time this season, freshman AJ Griffin was in the starting lineup. Griffin has been Duke’s leading scorer off the bench this season, but this first half shows that he may have untapped potential that hasn’t gotten its proper stage playing second fiddle to the starting lineup. He had somewhat of a slow start to the season after injuring his knee in preseason, but he’s clearly returned to the form Duke faithful expected at his recruitment.  He opened his starting outing with a 3-pointer two minutes in, and he quickly racked up 11 points. However, he looked hesitant to take control, but when he did, he looked strong and silky on the ball. 

Bouncing back

The Blue Devils dropped their second game Saturday after falling in the final minutes to Miami. Turnovers defined that game, as Duke tallied 17 to the Hurricanes’ five. To avoid a repeat of that performance in Winston-Salem, it was clear that cleaning up that aspect would have to be high on the Blue Devils’ priority list. Evidently, they marked that off their to-do list, as they only turned the ball over three times. However, two egregious turnovers—one from senior Joey Baker as he went for a 3-pointer and one off a pass attempt from freshman Trevor Keels—demonstrated that Duke still has some rust to shake off following an unexpected break from COVID-19.   

Accuracy is everything

Duke struggled to sink its shots against the Hurricanes, and that hex seemed to carry over as they returned to North Carolina, shooting just 42.4% from the field and 50% from three. These shooting woes have held the Blue Devils back from living up to their potential, but their defense has made up for it so far. Despite an uncomfortable amount of doinks off the rim, Duke still held the Demon Deacons to 25 field goal attempts, eight fewer than itself, and a 44% field goal percentage. Accuracy struggles on both sides beg the question of what the result could be if more shots actually found their way through the net, and whether the woes are the result of poor shot selection or other issues. The Blue Devils were seemingly able to find good shooting lanes, but making good on those will need to be an area of improvement in the second half.  

Player of the half: Paolo Banchero

Banchero scored just three points in the first half against Miami, but it took him just two and a half minutes to surpass that Wednesday night. He was particularly dominant in the paint, muscling his way to the basket and using his size advantage to put up easy points especially in the early minutes of the game. Going 6-of-12 from the field to end with 13 points and shooting 33% from beyond the arc, Banchero led the Blue Devils in scoring by a significant margin and allowed them to fight their way back to a lead after giving it up around the midpoint of the half. He also controlled the flow of play, tallying one of the Blue Devils’ three assists and doling out the ball to help the Blue Devils create shooting lanes. 

Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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