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

Freshman forward AJ Griffin shot a blazing 4-of-6 from 3-point range in the first half.
Freshman forward AJ Griffin shot a blazing 4-of-6 from 3-point range in the first half.

No. 6 Duke entered its Saturday matchup against Syracuse as a huge favorite but coming off of a rough overtime loss against unranked Florida State. A red-hot start has helped the Blue Devils accrue an early lead. The Orange have fought back, but Duke still holds a large, but not insurmountable 36-22 lead at intermission. Here is a look at the most important storylines from the first 20 minutes of action.

Half a screwdriver

In the opening minutes, Duke could not seem to miss, juicing the Orange for all they were worth. AJ Griffin began the game with a bang, intercepting a pass and nailing a wing 3-pointer on the other end. On the Blue Devils’ next possession, Griffin converted on a 3-pointer from nearly the exact same spot. A sky-high alley-oop finish from Mark Williams and a high level of defensive intensity helped Duke build an early 11-2 lead.

Disappearing brothers

Syracuse may not be as strong this year as in year’s past, but they can claim the brothers Boeheim, sons of head coach Jim Boeheim. Buddy and Jim Boeheim Jr. are Syracuse’s top-two scorers this year, with Buddy recording nearly 20 points per game. However, it seems neither of the Orange royalty were in the mood to make an appearance in the opening half. In the first 10 minutes, the Boeheims combined to shoot 0-for-5, recording zero points, zero rebounds and zero assists.

By the end of the half, they had still only combined for three points on 1-of-13 shooting.

Black and white, and Orange all over

Sometimes fans feel unjustifiably that a ref is biased in favor of the other team, but it’s hard to argue with this one. About five minutes in, a pass from junior forward Wendell Moore Jr., intended for graduate transfer Bates Jones, who was perched in the corner, bounced off of the head of referee Ted Valentine and out of bounds. Possession changed hands, and naturally, the Cameron Crazies were not too thrilled.

Game of Zones—easy mode

Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse head coach, is infamous for his team’s 2-3 zone defense, which has stymied many a Duke team throughout his long career. However, the tactic did not work against this year’s Blue Devils. Duke shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc, spacing out the zone and leaving space for easy alley-oops to big man Mark Williams. Williams finished the half with nine points on perfect shooting.

Player of the half: AJ Griffin

Who needs the paint? Freshman guard AJ Griffin has only taken 3-pointers so far, and that strategy is paying off. Griffin opened the game with back-to-back 3-pointers from the wing. After a quiet 10 minutes, Griffin buried another pair of 3-pointers, this time from the corner. His 12 points came with remarkable efficiency. The freshman shot 4-for-6 from the field—all of them 3-point attempts. He certainly is making a strong case for a long-term starter. At intermission, Griffin also had two rebounds and a steal to his name.

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