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Three points: Strength inside and early is key as Duke men's basketball aims to weaken relentless Hurricanes

<p>Freshman Paolo Banchero will again be tasked with pushing the ball inside after an abysmal team shooting performance from the paint against Georgia Tech.</p>

Freshman Paolo Banchero will again be tasked with pushing the ball inside after an abysmal team shooting performance from the paint against Georgia Tech.

Back on schedule following a scrappy win against Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils next welcome the Miami Hurricanes to Durham Saturday. The Blue Zone has three keys to a Duke victory and the end of Miami's eight-game win streak:

Play both halves

Duke often finds its stride in the second half of games. The Blue Devils' first half against Georgia Tech Tuesday was messy, with shots not falling and passes all over the place, but the fatigue was somewhat expected after a week off due to COVID-19 protocols. Before that, they were down by eight points against Virginia Tech just minutes into the second half before freshmen Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin helped lift the Blue Devils to an exciting resurgence with vital second-half scoring runs.

But the Miami Hurricanes can also show up in the second half when they need to. They opened their second half against Syracuse with a 14-3 run Wednesday night, holding the Orange scoreless from the field for the first 5:24 of the half and overcoming an 18-point deficit to mark their eighth straight win. 

To secure a victory Saturday, Duke needs to come out as strong as possible in the first 20 minutes. The Hurricanes are coming to Cameron Indoor with an eight-game win streak including two straight hard-fought ACC wins under their belts. Miami carries momentum that the Blue Devils might lack after time off and a sloppy win. If Banchero can play efficient ball and Duke can optimize its perimeter defense, they should be able to enter the second half with a comfortable lead and ensure Miami doesn’t get too hot to close the gap.

Guard the guards

Miami's senior guard Kameron McGusty was named the ACC Player of the Week for the week of Jan. 3. He leads the team with 18.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, also with a 50.6% field goal percentage and a 39.7% mark from the 3-point line.

While it’s clear Duke needs to shut down McGusty, there are other consistent backcourt leaders on Miami’s lineup, too. Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong scored a season-high 25 points against Wake Forest Saturday, while redshirt senior guard Charlie Moore consistently quarterbacks the team by dishing out assists—he leads the team with 3.9 per game—and controlling the offense.

Duke’s defense is certainly a strongpoint for the team, saving the Blue Devils from trailing at the half against Georgia Tech, so it needs to utilize sturdy perimeter defense against Miami’s guards. The Blue Devils have struggled offensively in the first half of its ACC contests thus far, so if Miami gets hot from deep, Duke will have a lot of work to do turning the game around.

Pack the paint

Miami’s senior forward Sam Waardenburg is vital to rim protection and shutting down the paint defensively. When he missed the game against Wake Forest due to COVID-19 protocols, the Demon Deacons outscored Miami 48-38 in the painted area.

The Blue Devils also struggled in the paint Tuesday, with Georgia Tech’s Jordan Meka protecting the basket well and giving the Blue Devils trouble scoring down low—in spite of the box score showing Mark Williams' double-digit effort. Part of this was undoubtedly due to Duke being out of shape after a week off, so the team’s success inside Saturday will partially depend on if they’re able to shake the fatigue out of their legs and stay strong at the basket to get past Waardenburg.

But rest assured, the Blue Devils can definitely handle themselves in the paint when they are at full strength. At 7-foot-1, Duke’s sophomore center Williams has a physical advantage against a 6-foot-10 Waardenburg. Forwards Banchero and junior Wendell Moore Jr. lead Duke in points per game—with 17.1 and 16.3, respectively—and helped the Blue Devils get 40 free throw attempts against the Yellow Jackets by going up strong. Hopefully for Krzyzewski and the No. 2 Blue Devils, they will be rested and refreshed enough to give Waardenburg trouble defending the rim on Saturday.


Leah Boyd | Editor-in-Chief

Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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