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

Freshman Paolo Banchero led Duke with nine points early on.
Freshman Paolo Banchero led Duke with nine points early on.

No. 7 Duke had a short break between its 20-point Saturday win in Chapel Hill to a 7 p.m. home tipoff against Virginia. The Blue Devils came out flat and allowed the Cavaliers to jump out to an 8-2 lead to start. They battled back, but Virginia holds a 34-29 lead at the half. Here’s five of our observations from the opening 20 minutes.

AJ becomes a mark

Virginia’s early offense had one principle and one principle only: attack AJ Griffin. The wing faced four sets targeting him within the game’s first four minutes; he gave up four points directly, and got beat the other two times to force help that left a Cavalier open at the rim.

Mark becomes a star

In Mark Williams’ first career matchup against Virginia, the center played just seven minutes and finished with a perfectly blank line in the box score. In the first six minutes tonight, Williams had already tallied four points, a block and a steal while keeping the Cavaliers away from the rim when he wasn’t forced away in help.

Virginia marking with flares

The Blue Devil defense is stout at the point of attack. So the Cavaliers, unable to go through it, and unable to go over it, went around it. Virginia set more than a flare or exit or loop screen per possession, often chaining multiple together to torment Griffin or Joey Baker, while mostly staying away from Wendell Moore Jr. and Jeremy Roach. The result was a lot of open baseline drives.

Blue Devils off the mark

Shooting variance is a hard thing to pin problems on, but sometimes the ball simply doesn’t find the bottom of the net. Such was the case for Duke; though the Blue Devils had problems finding quick buckets, they weren’t wanting for open looks. Banchero missed multiple layups, Griffin overpowered a dunk and multiple open kick-out threes simply refused to fall.

Player of the half: Paolo Banchero

It was a tale of two halves for Banchero, and as he went, so went the Blue Devils. The big wing started the half on fire for Duke, scoring six points within the first eight minutes while missing only one attempt from the field. He went to work on empty-corner isos, on near-side post-ups and cleaning up missed shots. Defensively, he was just as active, helping from the elbow to the corner to the slot and back while scooping up loose boards.

After the midway point, however, Banchero went 0-of-4 shooting, missing multiple bunnies right at the rim before hitting a three at the end of the half. As the Blue Devils scored just three points in an 8.5-minute streak while getting outscored 15-3—Banchero was a key reason why.

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