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

Paolo Banchero took over for stretches of the opening 20 minutes.
Paolo Banchero took over for stretches of the opening 20 minutes.

It is finally here. The final night in Cameron Indoor Stadium of Mike Krzyzewski's storied career, after 42 years, has arrived. With a fired-up student section and dozens upon dozens of former players in attendance, No. 4 Duke and North Carolina took the stage yet again. The Tar Heels started out strong, but Duke got it going as the first half went on, ending with a 41-39 edge at the break. Here are five observations from what went down in the initial 20 minutes.

It’s party time

What a scene this is. Coach K’s last dance in Cameron has utterly delivered from an energy standpoint, and quite frankly, expect anything different? Adam Silver, Jerry Seinfeld, Ken Jeong and countless other celebrities are in the house, not to mention the former Blue Devils that made their way to Durham for this one. 

The Cameron Crazies are easily the loudest they’ve been all season and Krzyzewski, in his 97th meeting against North Carolina, walked out of a tunnel created by those former and current players about 20 minutes from tip. There has been no shortage of buzz and pageantry throughout the night so far. About what we had anticipated going in.

No shortage of physicality

You want physical? You got physical. Whether it was hedging bigs bumping ball handlers coming off screens, AJ Griffin finishing through contact on his way to giving Duke the lead back at 30-28—cue the crowd going absolutely wild—or Theo John and Caleb Love getting into it for a loose ball, a sequence that ended in a flagrant on the Blue Devil big man, this has the feelings of an old-school, pull no punches Duke-North Carolina brawl. 

Considering the magnitude of the contest, and the talent on both sides, it’s truly fitting that the greatest rivalry in sports is playing out this way.

Growing pains early

Duke was sloppy, check that, really sloppy, in the opening stages of this one. Early turnovers by Paolo Banchero, Mark Williams and Jeremy Roach were head scratchers, but give North Carolina some credit—Hubert Davis’ bunch came out ready to roll defensively.

Krzyzewski was none too pleased with Duke’s offensive struggles in the opening minutes, and the Blue Devils clearly had some things to talk over in the huddle. Thankfully for Duke, the first few possessions out of the initial timeout featured some much-needed energy via an emphatic Theo John rejection and Banchero and Roach attacking the basket with some authority. In time, the Blue Devils were right back in it. 

Battle of the bigs

Armando Bacot and Mark Williams have been on their respective A-games recently, with the former having just tied the single-season Tar Heel record for double-doubles and the latter establishing himself as the only player in the nation shooting at least 70% from the field and the charity stripe. During the first 20 minutes, the two got after it on the interior, battling for position and fighting for boards. 

Bacot came out at the 17:02 mark, leaving Brady Manek as the Tar Heels’ proverbial center, while Williams exited the contest in favor of Theo John just 34 seconds later. But once they re-entered the game, it was more of the same down low. Bacot finished with 10 points and three rebounds for the half, with Williams going for four points and nine rebounds of his own.  

Player of the Half: Paolo Banchero

Out of the under-16 media timeout, the Seattle native looked completely dialed in on the offensive end. Being guarded by North Carolina wing Leaky Black, a legitimate contender for ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Banchero went to work off the dribble, proving yet again that not many other 6-foot-10, 250-pounders have his ridiculous skillset. 

Utilizing quick crossovers to keep Black off balance, the freshman got to the hole repeatedly—right when the Blue Devils needed a spark at that end. Banchero’s putback dunk to cut the Tar Heel lead to 11-10 resulted in a deafening Cameron, but he appeared unfazed by all the hoopla. The future lottery pick was the guy, when Duke needed a guy. Banchero ended the period with 15 points on 7-of-13 from the floor. 


Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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