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

Freshman AJ Griffin hit three threes during the first half.
Freshman AJ Griffin hit three threes during the first half.

No. 9 Duke returned to Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday to play Wake Forest for the second time this season. Both teams started out with sloppy play, but the Blue Devils ultimate pulled ahead to take a 42-33 lead at the half. Here are five of our observations from the opening period.

KeelMode back in the starting lineup 

After going down with an injury Jan 18. against Florida State, Trevor Keels returned to the starting lineup Tuesday after coming off the bench in the games since his return. In the opening five minutes, Keels made an immediate impact grabbing two rebounds and an assist to propel Duke’s offense. Keels dictated a lot of the offensive pace in the first half, playing it slow when the defense got tough and fast when he saw loopholes.

On the defensive end, Keels marked Demon Deacon guards from their defensive rebound, applying full court pressure throughout the half. As a guard with a larger build, Keels easily kept up with the physicality of the older Wake Forest team. Like a veteran guard, Keels’ presence in the starting lineup alleviated the offensive and defensive loads of other Duke players. 

Shot after shot 

The Blue Devils and Demon Deacons exchanged basket after basket in the opening minutes of the first half with neither team taking a significant lead over the other for the first 10 minutes. While Duke struggled from beyond the arc, Mark Williams’s post-ups and Wendell Moore Jr.’s drives to the basket helped the Blue Devils stay toe to toe with Wake Forest—who have largely relied on 3-pointers in the first half.  

However, in the final 10 minutes of the first half, Duke was able to push through, slowly extending its lead with field goal after field goal. With the Demon Deacons committing lots of offensive fouls, Duke was able to take advantage of the and-one, converting on the three-point plays. 

A two-way team 

From Williams’s powerful block that seemed more like a volleyball spike than a shot block to  Moore’s hustling, Duke displayed a lethal defensive presence on the other end of the court. The Blue Devils were able to keep Wake Forest to a stark 12-of-32 shooting, with periods of point droughts being a common theme for the visitors in the first half. 

Cameron Crazies go hard (as usual)

No Duke report is complete without capturing the energy of the Cameron Crazies. Despite a tragic last-second loss against Virginia Feb. 7 that silenced Cameron Indoor Stadium in the final seconds, Cameron Crazies came back Tuesday refreshed with roars and cheers that filled up the whole stadium. From appearances by Elmo and the rest of Sesame Street to Crazies to other students with “DDMF” painted across their chests, the student section could not stop shaking even before tip-off. 

Player of the half: AJ Griffin 

With 12 points, 4 rebounds, and one block, AJ Griffin was the best player for the Blue Devils in the first half. Such statistics reflect the physical, two-way mindset that Griffin brings for Duke. When Duke struggled offensively in the opening minutes, Griffin sank several 3-pointers that electrified the stadium. He was constantly moving around the court, getting into open positions that made it easy for Keels and Roach to kick out a pass to him. Furthermore, of the rebounds that Griffin grabbed, two of them were offensive rebounds which gave the Blue Devils a second chance to extend their lead. It is no wonder why Griffin played the most minutes in the first half. 

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