SAN FRANCISCO—The second-seeded Blue Devils are in the midst of their second game at Chase Center, this time against No. 4-seed Arkansas for a spot in the Final Four. Duke was ahead for most of the half, and took a 45-33 lead into the first period. Here are five of our observations from the first 20 minutes.
Sophomore guard Jeremy Roach was arguably Duke’s most important player in the second half of its Sweet 16 matchup. The guard tallied 11 second-half points, attacking the basket with verve while also facilitating the Blue Devil offense as it heated up. Meanwhile, for the Razorbacks, JD Notae paced their defeat of Gonzaga, leading Arkansas with 21 points and six assists. However, Notae’s prowess comes from volume, not efficiency. He shot 30% from the field through the first three games of the tournament, and was 9-of-29 against Gonzaga. Both opened scoring for their respective teams, each on a drive to the rim, and quarterbacked their teams afterward. By the end of the half, they were almost tied in scoring, Roach with seven points, Notae with eight.
Arkansas can force turnovers often, and knows how to do so against the best teams in the nation. Throughout the season, it has forced 14 or more turnovers against a tournament team seven times. That started early against Duke, first with a turnover from AJ Griffin on an errant pass, then when Mark Williams lost the ball below the rim. Both of those turnovers came within the first three minutes. However, Duke found its footing afterwards, finishing with seven to Arkansas’ five. However, turnovers will be something to keep an eye out for in the second, as the Razorbacks were adept at capitalizing on the mistakes, scoring eight points off forced turnovers.
Arkansas plays small and without a true center, instead relying on 6-foot-10 forward Jaylin Williams for some inside presence. By contrast, the Blue Devils roll 6-foot-10 Paolo Banchero out at the four and 7-foot-1 Mark Williams out at the five. This gave Duke a lot of physical leverage, and that showed early; all of Duke’s first 16 points came in the paint, with 30 total by the end. Other Blue Devils benefited as well, with Trevor Keels and Roach finding lanes, and Griffin, usually a pure shooter, looking to out-muscle his defender rather than shoot from beyond the arc. As a team, the Blue Devils’ size advantage also let them deny Arkansas’ shots and grab boards. Three Blue Devils logged a block for four total by the end of the first frame, and they out-rebounded the Razorbacks 22-12.
Duke hasn’t shot below 52% from the field so far through the tournament, but the Blue Devils were stifled by the Red Raiders’ hallmark defense for a 37% mark from the field in the first half. Arkansas, on the other hand, shot 40% from the field against Gonzaga and 7-of-25 from three. A Duke-Arkansas matchup thus figured to be a battle of efficiency versus volume. Evidently, this juxtaposition gave Duke an edge, as the Blue Devils’ 17-of-31 clip got them the end-of-half lead. Duke’s efficiency advantage came from its ability to work within the arc, something the Razorbacks were much less reliant on, with nine 2-pointers to Duke’s 15. This still brings up an interesting predicament, though, where the Blue Devils finished the half just 2-of-5 from distance. While that didn’t burn them in the first half, it’ll definitely be something they look to improve in the second.
Player of the half: Mark Williams
Williams was far and away Duke’s most valuable player. With 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, the big man was the centerpiece of a Duke team that looked to exploit the Razorbacks’ relative weakness in the paint. However, beyond the numbers, Williams had a stretch that was instrumental in firing up the Blue Devils and getting them some momentum early in the half. After Roach missed on the fastbreak, Williams was right behind him for the putback. Then, on the very next possession he tipped it in after Wendell Moore Jr., couldn’t finish a drive. Right after that, he picked up a Razorback turnover at the top of the key for a fastbreak layup. Before that, the Blue Devils looked a little off kilter, but afterwards they looked significantly more confident.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.