5 observations from Duke men's basketball's first half against Tennessee in Round of 32

Kyle Filipowski sits on the bench with a cut under his eye in the first half of Duke's battle against Tennessee.
Kyle Filipowski sits on the bench with a cut under his eye in the first half of Duke's battle against Tennessee.

ORLANDO, Fla.—With a ticket to the Sweet 16 on the line, No. 5-seed Duke and No. 4-seed Tennessee are halfway through an intense contest at the Amway Center. The score remains tight, but the Volunteers have the 27-21 advantage heading to the final frame.

Let’s get physical

By the end of the half, Duke and Tennessee had combined for 16 fouls, and that was only what was called. Even on plays without a foul, you could bet your last dollar the teams were roughing each other up, mostly due to each team’s aggressive approach to defending each other. 

One of the most obvious manifestations of this was Kyle Filipowski’s battle with Uros Plavsic in the paint. The freshman struggled to work his usual magic in the paint with the 24-year-old in his way, and when Plavsic was subbed out for a breather, the difference in Filipowski’s ability to drive to the basket was stark, as he immediately worked his way in for a layup. 

Unfortunately for Filipowski, that wouldn’t be the end of his woes. He took hard contact to his face with no foul call, and had to be treated on the bench for a bleeding wound under his left eye. He reentered the contest just a few minutes later, ultimately putting up five points and two rebounds by the half. 

Points an enigma

Duke found itself in a slugfest in the first half. Not only was the game physical, but both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket. Field-goal percentages from both teams were not great but also not atrocious — 36% for Duke and 33% for Tennessee — the teams were simply not giving each other many looks at the basket, let alone high-quality ones. Tennessee’s defense, ranked second in the nation per KenPom, locked down the paint, with Duke only scoring six from the area by the half. The Volunteers also forced 11 turnovers to their own five. Ultimately, while both teams struggled to score, those Duke turnovers gave the Volunteers the upper hand going into the break.

Missing Mitchell

This matchup was billed as a defensive battle, but unfortunately for Duke, one of the Blue Devils’ best defenders, Mark Mitchell, was ruled questionable just moments before the game’s start. Over the broadcast, it was announced that the freshman tweaked his knee in practice Friday, leading to his exclusion from the starting lineup for the first time this season. Dariq Whitehead started in his place, marking the first change to the usual starting lineup for Duke since Jan. 23 at Virginia Tech. 

The Blue Devils felt Mitchell’s absence in their own half of the court. Though Whitehead was more than up for his task offensively, it is hard to replace Mitchell’s length guarding the perimeter, and missing Whitehead’s spark off the bench hurt Duke's ability to rely on its depth as it has in the past. 

From a distance

Tennessee scored first, marking the first time Duke has trailed since the first half of its date with Miami in the semifinal of the ACC tournament. Then, Jeremy Roach and Whitehead scored back-to-back triples in 22 seconds to go up 6-2. After a brief back and forth, Vescovi capitalized on a Roach turnover to make a three of his own and get Tennessee within one. 

With the Volunteers locking down the paint, 3-point shooting became Duke’s lifeline. The Blue Devils let Tennessee go on a 6-0 run to take a lead midway through the half, but Roach tied the game with a second-chance three after a desperate layup attempt from Filipowski barely scratched the hoop as the shot clock expired. By the end of the half, Duke shot 4-of-11 from three, while the Volunteers shot 3-of-10, including two from Vescovi.

Player of the half: Dariq Whitehead 

At a media availability Friday, head coach Jon Scheyer said of Whitehead, “We have six starters on our team,” and that was put to the test in the first half Saturday. Stepping into the starting lineup in place of Mitchell, Whitehead answered the call, putting up a team-leading eight points. After combining with Roach to open Duke’s scoring, he laid in the ball on an inbound play to put Duke up 10-7 just a few minutes later. At the half, Whitehead is shooting 3-of-6 from the field and 2-of-5 from three.

Sasha Richie profile
Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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