PITTSBURGH—Duke got off to a hot start in its final road game of the regular season, jumping out to an early lead against Pittsburgh on the way to a 36-19 halftime advantage. With 20 minutes to play here at the Petersen Events Center, here are five observations from the first half.
Hot start from 3-point range
On Duke’s first two possessions, it played patiently and instead of forcing shots inside a crowded paint, found space from beyond the arc to hit its first two 3-point attempts. Five of the Blue Devils’ first six possessions were 3-point shots. Duke hit four of them, with two from Trevor Keels, one from Wendell Moore Jr. and one from Paolo Banchero. The Blue Devils have won six of seven games in which they have made nine or more 3-point field goals, and they are well on their way to this margin at the half, already having made six. The Blue Devils have been efficient from beyond the arc as well, shooting 55% from downtown, far above their season average of 37.3%.
Pressure on defense
Duke started the half aggressive on defense, attacking ball-handlers and shooters and forcing two early steals and a block. AJ Griffin’s steal on the first possession set the tone and Mark Williams established his presence defensively with an early block against John Hugley. To cap off an incredible defensive start for the Blue Devils, Banchero turned a steal into a fastbreak dunk, putting the Blue Devils up 16-3. Theo John continued that defensive aggression after subbing in, disrupting a ball-handler at the top of the key with 13:49 remaining for a near-turnover. Moore did the same on that possession, forcing an airball 3-point attempt at the buzzer to help keep momentum on Duke’s side.
Pittsburgh’s shooting woes
Duke’s defense did a solid job disrupting Pittsburgh, but the Panthers still found open shots. The home team’s main problem so far is that it has failed to knock those shots down at an efficient rate. Through the game’s first 12 minutes, Pittsburgh shot just 29.4% from the field to Duke’s 47.1% clip. Pittsburgh is second-to-last in the ACC in field goal percentage and will need to be more effective at hitting open shots if it hopes to narrow the margin entering the second half.
Back and forth battle on the glass
Although Duke held a slight advantage in rebounding to start the game, Pittsburgh quickly narrowed this gap. Both teams had significant rebounds on the offensive side that led to second-chance scoring opportunities. Keels had a tough offensive rebound that led to a quick putback layup, and Griffin had a flashy jam off of a rebound from a missed 3-point attempt by Moore. With just under four minutes remaining in the half, Duke and Pittsburgh shared 14 rebounds apiece, with the Panthers slightly leading the offensive rebounding category 5-3. After struggles on the offensive glass played a role in earlier losses to opponents such as Florida State and Miami, Duke will surely look to prevent future second-chance opportunities for the Panthers if it hopes to prevent a comeback.
Player of the half: Paolo Banchero
Banchero was aggressive on the offensive end from the jump. Starting with a quick three and midrange jumper, the star freshman got his confidence going early. After establishing himself as a threat to shoot, Banchero drew a tighter matchup on defense and used his 6-foot-10 frame to draw fouls on the offensive end. The Seattle native got to the stripe as a result and knocked down his first four free throws. Banchero continued his hot shooting, scoring 12 points in the game’s first 11 minutes. After failing to score in double digits in both of his games against Virginia, Tuesday’s game is an important one for Banchero to build off of his high-scoring night against Syracuse, and after his hot start, the freshman cooled down and did not score again in the final nine minutes of the half. Banchero will surely look to get hot once again in the second half.
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