Duke entered this one as a 14.5-point favorite, but it’s shaping up to be far closer than the spread would have indicated. Miami came out hot thanks to its stellar guard play and jumped out to an early lead, before the Blue Devils fought back to make it 32-32 at the half. Here’s five of our observations from the first 20 minutes.
Size versus speed
Duke and Miami entered this game with two very different identities. The Blue Devils dominate with extreme size between Mark Williams, Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels, among others. And while the Hurricanes can’t match up in that regard, their heavy guard usage means a lot of speed—something they know how to play to their advantage.
Miami set the tone for this game early by forcing turnovers and running the floor in transition, ending the half with 13 points off turnovers. Using its elite speed between the four starting guards, any Duke turnover quickly became a plus-numbers situation for the Hurricanes.
After grabbing two quick buckets on its first two possessions, Duke’s offensive play began to fall apart. The Miami defense was stifling in the first half and forced the Blue Devils into some uncomfortable offensive possessions. Duke racked up four turnovers in the first five minutes, in large part due to passing lanes being cut off and miscommunications.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski was forced to make some early changes that ultimately brought new life to the team and helped clean up play, although the turnover issue was still persistent. At the end of the first half Duke amassed 13 turnovers, seven of which came from its starting guards Wendell Moore and Jeremy Roach.
AJ on the scene
While gradually building up his minutes over the course of the season, freshman forward AJ Griffin sure earned his share of playing time in this first half. Griffin was part of Krzyzewski’s early changes and immediately became an impact presence on the court. His elite athleticism allowed him to better keep up with the transition play of Miami and gave the Blue Devils a much needed boost on the defensive end.
It will be interesting to see how this first half dictates Krzyzewski’s usage of Griffin in the second half.
Miami’s leading scorer entering this game was sixth-year guard Kameron McGusty who owns a near 25% share of the Hurricane’s points on the season. Despite his elite scoring ability, the Blue Devils held him to just six points. Those came on just 3-of-9 shooting, which is particularly impressive because McGusty is shooting a blazing 51% from the field this season.
Continuing to limit Miami’s top guard will surely be a key if Duke wants to close out this game in the second half.
Player of the half: Paolo Banchero
In a high-profile matchup like this, a team needs its superstar and the Blue Devils needed Banchero. He led the way for Duke with seven points while also playing an important role on the defensive end. His elite scoring ability was key for Duke in the first half because Miami’s suffocating defense allowed for no easy buckets. In times of need Duke just had to put the ball in his hands and let him go to work.
The projected top-three pick ignited Duke’s offense after a string of bad possessions with a 3-pointer that stretched Duke’s one-point lead to a four-point lead with just under 14 minutes in the first half.
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