Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against North Carolina

Freshman Paolo Banchero made two of Duke's first three field goals.
Freshman Paolo Banchero made two of Duke's first three field goals.

CHAPEL HILL—No. 9 Duke made the short bus-ride on highway 15-501 for a 6 p.m. tipoff against North Carolina in the Dean Dome. Duke got out to a hot start and held a 23-point lead at one point, but the Tar Heels snuck back in the game to cut Duke’s lead down to 11 for a 39-28 score at the half. Here’ s five of our observations from the opening 20 minutes.

Adapted to the atmosphere

As is with any Duke at North Carolina matchup, the crowd in the Dean Smith Center is deafening. The Blue Devils have seen some hostile road environments this year, but none compare to this. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, that didn’t seem to play much of an effect on the Duke squad. 

With so much of the team new to a packed Dean Dome like this—via no fans at last year's events or being freshmen—the crowd is playing as a sixth man for the Tar Heels, but the Blue Devils still managed to ball out. For Duke to walk out of here with a victory, it’ll just need to stay the course and play its game.

Fast start

The Blue Devils came out gunning in this one. In a road game of this degree, most would expect the home team to be riding the momentum and start quick, but that couldn’t have been further from the case tonight. The Blue Devils got out to an extremely quick 13-2 lead over their opponents in large part due to play design and efficient shooting. Duke started out the game shooting a smooth 5-of-6 from the field, including 2-of-2 from deep and a Mark Williams and-one play. Those first few minutes set the tone for a successful half of basketball.

The second component to Duke’s fast start was North Carolina’s slow one. It took the Tar Heels more than 10 minutes to get into double-digit scoring figures, allowing Duke to open up a 23-point lead. 

Efficiency is the word

Offensively, there wasn’t a thing the Blue Devils weren’t doing extremely efficiently. They shot 16-of-29 from the field, 3-of-9 from 3-point range, 4-of-4 from the free throw line and committed only seven turnovers (which have been an issue at times for this year’s Duke team). It’s only fitting that their best offensive game is coming in the most challenging environment of the year. 

The Blue Devils couldn’t seem to miss for the first quarter of the game, and while that trend slowed a bit later in the half, they maintained enough scoring output to keep North Carolina at more than arm's-length for a full 20 minutes. 

Defense firing on all cylinders

Perhaps even more impressive than Duke’s offense was its defensive showing. A large part of the Blue Devils being able to open up a 14-point lead within the first five minutes was their ability to keep North Carolina away from the rim. The Tar Heels were forced late into many shot clocks and had to put up bad shots, specifically from 3-point range. North Carolina shot just 4-of-14 from deep, which included a few bad clanks off the iron. 

There was nothing too flashy about Duke’s rim protection—it had just two blocks and five steals. But every Blue Devil, no matter if that be the starters or bench guys, played their assignments extremely well and executed all key facets of defense to a high degree. 

Player of the half: Paolo Banchero

Paolo Banchero is truly living up to his motto “kNOw Pressure” tonight. Despite the weight of this game, the freshman has shown out through 20 minutes. The super talent has been exactly that, a super talent, and exactly what the Blue Devils have needed to battle through this crowd. 

Despite not leading Duke in points (which is surprising to say), he impacted the first half in seemingly every way. His seven rebounds and two assists complemented his five points for a complete all-around 20 minutes of play. Like every other game, he is key for the Blue Devils in the second half. 


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