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Three points: Momentum, an improved Banchero key as Duke men's basketball looks to get revenge against Florida State

Freshman forward Paolo Banchero went scoreless in the first half of Tuesday's game, just as he was in the first 15 minutes of the second half in Duke's Jan. 18 loss against Florida State.
Freshman forward Paolo Banchero went scoreless in the first half of Tuesday's game, just as he was in the first 15 minutes of the second half in Duke's Jan. 18 loss against Florida State.

Fresh off a nerve-racking last-second win against Wake Forest, the Blue Devils welcome Florida State into town for a rematch as Duke aims to rebound from a poor showing in its penultimate home game of the season. The Blue Zone has the three keys to the game for the Blue Devils:

Close, close, close

Nine points: that’s the total margin by which the Blue Devils have lost their four games this season. It’s an absurdly small number, and it brings attention to the team’s tendency to fall just short of the finish line. Mark Williams’ miraculous dunk with a split second left in against Wake Forest should not distract from the fact that the Blue Devils were in full control of the game at multiple points during the second half. Up 19 points with 14 minutes to go, it seemed as if the result of the game was sealed—until it wasn’t. The Demon Deacons eliminated a nine point deficit in the final four minutes of the game to tie it with 20 seconds to go, and the Blue Devils nearly suffered another gut-wrenching loss at the hands of an admittedly sub-par ACC opponent. 

The Blue Devils’ last date with the Seminoles was full of ups and downs, with the Blue Devils down for most of the second half due in part to a quiet Paolo Banchero and lackluster defense. If it is to win their home matchup, Duke must be unwavering and unyielding, showing up when it matters the most to close out the game. 

Banchero’s bounce-back

Shooting 20% from both within and beyond the arc is not what you expect from Banchero, the ACC Freshman of the Week three times in a row in January. Yet, the Crazies watched as the forward struggled. Free throws—and creating for his teammates—were pretty much all Banchero excelled at as the Blue Devils took on the Demon Deacons, as he shot 8-9 from the line, making up the bulk of his 13 points. Even though his point total was the second highest on the team, this certainly was a below-average game for the Seattle native. For the Blue Devils to succeed, they need to have their star freshman back on his A-game with his admittedly "bad" offensive play of late a thing of the past.

Minimize turnovers

In each of the Blue Devils’ last three losses, one of the deciding factors was the turnover ratio. As Duke fell to Virginia last Monday, the Blue Devils scored two points off turnovers while the Cavaliers scored an impressive 20. But while this trend holds true for the team’s losses against Florida State and Miami, just looking at points off turnovers is misleading. Even though Virginia outscored Duke in points off turnovers by 18, both teams converted around half of their turnover opportunities—the Cavaliers are no more efficient than the Blue Devils at capitalizing off turnovers, they simply turn the ball over less. 

Simply minimizing turnovers is easier said than done, however, as turnovers remain a struggle for the Blue Devils as of late. Over its past five games, Duke totals 58 turnovers, while its opponents have only accumulated 39. Each of the Blue Devils’ losses have come from close games, and in these tight matchups, turnovers may very well separate a win from a loss. So to find success against the Seminoles, the Blue Devils must do their best to avoid becoming their own worst enemy and play a focused, refined game. 

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