Playing the first of a three-game homestand Monday evening, Duke trailed visiting Louisville early before seizing the momentum and a halftime lead. With the second half coming up, the Blue Devils lead 42-33 as they seek out a third-straight win.
Legends in the house
Many great players have come and gone through Cameron Indoor Stadium’s historic halls, but one of Duke’s most significant is undoubtedly C.B. Claiborne, who was the Blue Devils’ first-ever African American player. Claiborne was in attendance Monday and was honored before tipoff with every Duke player wearing a custom black warmup shirt featuring the number 23 and Claiborne’s name across the back. He was recognized midway through the first half at center court to raucous applause by the Blue Devil faithful as well.
In addition, former Duke player and assistant head coach Nolan Smith made his return to Cameron Indoor after accepting a job on Louisville’s staff last offseason. Aside from their time together on former head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching staff, Smith and current head coach Jon Scheyer were teammates for the Blue Devils’ 2010 national championship run.
Louisville is undergoing a turbulent campaign, to say the least, and sits tied at the bottom of the ACC. That didn’t stop the Cardinals from deciding to induce some chaos into what, on paper, should be an easy win for Duke. Louisville drew first blood via a JJ Traynor layup and forced the Blue Devils out of their usual offensive rhythm, holding an early lead for much of the first half. Mark Mitchell grabbed Duke’s first advantage of the game from the line just before the 10-minute mark after being fouled on the way up for a dunk, an advantage it would not surrender before the break.
Dereck Lively II has at points struggled to score this season, but when Duke needed points Monday evening, the freshman center was ready and rocking. The Philadelphia native got the Blue Devils on the board at the charity stripe and was a threat around the rim throughout the half. Lively made the most of his height advantage in the paint with an impressive 3-of-5 rate from the floor and was good from the free throw line with a 3-for-4 clip. By half’s end, the former five-star recruit had nine points to his name, in addition to his usual defensive presence in the post.
Trouble from outside
Duke showed Syracuse over the weekend what a dominant performance from three can do. Through one half, Louisville is trying its best to replicate that formula. Cardinal guard El Ellis caused the Blue Devils all sorts of problems with his ability from downtown, nailing three of his team’s five 3-pointers himself. One tradeoff of the defensive acumen Duke shows down low is that teams often resort to tries from the perimeter, and the Cardinals have recognized and capitalized on that. Louisville’s hot start cooled off by the close of the half, but this game is still very much within reach because of the early sharpshooting.
Player of the half: El Ellis
The Durhamite returns. Ellis has leveled up in 2022-23, averaging a gargantuan 18 points per game despite his team’s struggles. The senior from Durham came to play in his hometown, logging 15 points by the end of the half and hitting double digits within five minutes of the tip. Scheyer has not found an answer for Ellis through 20 minutes, and doing so will be key if Duke is to maintain its lead and keep its perfect home record intact.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.