Five observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Florida State

<p>Trevor Keels racked up eight points and dished out six assists in the opening 20 minutes.</p>

Trevor Keels racked up eight points and dished out six assists in the opening 20 minutes.

Coming off a thrilling 76-74 win against Wake Forest, Duke engaged in a back-and-forth first 20 minutes against Florida State Saturday. The Seminoles got off to a hot start from the field, but Duke got it going at the end of the half to take a 52-41 lead into the break. Here are five observations from the action so far.

It all starts with Keel Mode

Trevor Keels stepped into the starting lineup for the second consecutive time Saturday, a new development from the Jeremy Roach and Wendell Moore Jr. backcourt the Blue Devils had trotted out since the last matchup against Florida State Jan. 18, during which Keels sustained an injury. 

As a starter, Roach demonstrated a remarkable ability to run the offense and distribute the ball to his teammates. But so far Saturday, Keels has taken the reins in that sense. He’s already dished out six assists, and the Maryland native needs to continue spreading the wealth if Duke is to avenge its loss from last month.

Man-to-man rules the day

The Blue Devils have shown a willingness to switch quite a bit on defense this season, but tonight, they have stayed home on their matchups a fair bit. Of the backcourt players, Keels has shown that he’s the most consistent defensively on the ball this season, and his injection back into the starting lineup is keeping Florida State on its toes. 

Specifically, Duke has not allowed many easy points in transition, as it is getting back on defense quickly to the tune of allowing only four fastbreak points so far.

Florida State opts for strong defensive pressure 

Outside of AJ Griffin and Joey Baker, Krzyzewski’s squad has struggled at times from deep this season, much as it has over the past few years, and tonight is no different. Moore air-balled a three from the right key with 6:17 left in the half, but the Blue Devils as a whole are shooting 42.1% from beyond the arc during the first period, and the tide started to turn during the last few minutes. Baker in particular heated up, knocking down four threes to get the crowd going.

With such tight perimeter defense by Florida State, it’s no surprise that Duke isn’t draining every three it takes, but it is still getting open looks and that should continue going into the second half as the Seminoles tire. Duke has only scored 18 of its 52 points from the paint, so it will need to find the bottom of the net from deep more in the second half to pull away.

A battle of the 7-footers down low

It’s no secret that Mark Williams can be dominant on the inside on both ends of the floor, given that he’s a 7-footer with a 7-foot-7 wingspan. So far, Williams is using every bit of that length in this matchup. 

In a rarity this season, however, the opposing team has a center whose height outmatches Williams. The Seminoles’ Tanor Ngom stands an inch taller than Williams, but the Duke big man still made his presence known in the first half, tallying six points in the first half along with two rebounds and a block.

Ngom is also playing exceptionally well on the offensive side of the ball, however, notching nine points, including a three for the first time in his college career. It’s a full-out slugfest down low, and whoever can perform best in the second half of the two tallest players might decide the outcome of this game.

Player of the half: Trevor Keels

Keels’ energy has been a tone-setter defensively all year, but Saturday’s surprise certainly came via his hot streak from outside. The freshman nailed two threes in the first half, a figure that puts him on track to tie his career best of four made 3-pointers in November against Gardner-Webb.

He’s also well on pace to a double-double with his assist figure. This type of complete performance from Keels offensively has not been seen in a long time outside of his performance last week against Clemson, and he’s the strongest contributor to Duke’s lead tonight.


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