SAN FRANCISCO—It’s been an intense first 20 minutes here at the Chase Center with No. 2-seed Duke and No. 3-seed Texas Tech facing off beside the Bay for the right to face No. 4-seed Arkansas in the Elite Eight. With the Red Raiders leading 33-29 at the break, here are five of our observations from the first half.
Clash of styles
Thursday’s game was billed as a classic showdown between Duke’s high-powered offense and Texas Tech’s elite defense—the Red Raiders are the top-ranked team in terms of defensive efficiency this season by KenPom—and halfway in, neither side has disappointed on their respective end of the bargain.
Texas Tech wasted no time getting started on the defensive end, holding firm for nearly three minutes before finally allowing Duke to get on the board with a tough inside jumper by sophomore guard Jeremy Roach. But just after Roach opened up the scoring, the Red Raiders picked off the Blue Devils on back-to-back possessions and registered three straight fast-break buckets to head into the game’s first timeout with a 10-2 advantage. It may have been all Texas Tech in the early going, but Duke’s offense, led by solid ball-handling from Roach, settled in nicely, setting this one up for what should be a tight finish in San Francisco.
Green light for Griffin
If you tuned into Duke’s win against Michigan State in the Round of 32, you likely saw freshman forward AJ Griffin leave the game in the second half with an ankle injury. The sharpshooter didn’t re-enter the game, but Krzyzewski cleared up any concerns in Wednesday’s media availability, announcing that Griffin would be good to go for Thursday night’s high-stakes matchup.
Griffin was good to go indeed, maintaining his spot in the starting five and providing the 3-point shooting he’s been known for in his first year in a Duke jersey. With the Blue Devils in need of a bucket after a sluggish start, Griffin spotted up in the corner to give Duke its first triple of the game, cutting the Texas Tech lead to 12-7 and igniting an 8-0 run to tie the game at 12 at the 13:15 mark after a tough Paolo Banchero and-one. Griffin finished the half with six points in 17 minutes, sinking 2-of-4 3-point attempts.
Roach in control
Matched up against a Texas Tech defense that thrives on chaos, Roach provided a steady hand for Duke in a hard-fought first half, giving his team the kickstart it needed early. Throughout the first half, Roach provided the Blue Devils with the necessary dribble penetration and ball movement to inject some much-need flow into an otherwise viscous early offensive showing.
By no means was it Roach’s best or most prolific half of basketball, but his play will no doubt be key in Duke’s second-half efforts, as it was in Sunday’s win against the Spartans, when Roach stepped up late to seal Duke’s spot in the Sweet 16. Keep an eye moving forward on the sophomore floor general in the initiator role—the Blue Devils are likely going to need the best out of him to walk away with the win.
The elephant in the arena, though, is that in what could be head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game on the sidelines, the Blue Devils are in a fight with 20 minutes left to pull away. The Red Raiders have controlled a good chunk of the game so far and the Blue Devils are still right in the thick of things, but the pressure is building for Duke to make a run, and to make one soon.
Of course, these Blue Devils are familiar with this type of situation after engineering a 20-6 run to close out the Spartans, who led 70-65 with five minutes to play. The Red Raiders present a new and tougher challenge down the stretch of this one, though, and unless Banchero and company can solve the opposition’s vaunted defense and find more consistent sources of scoring, Texas Tech appears to be in the driver’s seat here at the Chase Center.
Player of the half: Paolo Banchero
It was an imperfect half of basketball for Duke’s star freshman, but like the rest of his team, Banchero warmed up after a tough first few minutes, announcing his presence with his tying and-one before knotting the score at 15 just moments later with a confident 3-point stroke. Texas Tech’s infamous no-middle defense is sending plenty of pressure Banchero’s way, but the Blue Devils are relying on their 6-foot-10 centerpiece to drive the offense regardless. Every run at the Big Dance starts with a star, and if Duke is to pull this one out and advance to the Elite Eight, chances are that it will have to do so behind Banchero’s efforts. If that’s the case, the Blue Devils are off to a fairly good start: Banchero has 11 points to lead Duke with one half left to play.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.