5 observations from No. 4-seed Duke men's basketball's first half against NC State in Elite 8

Jared McCain fights for a layup during Duke's first half against N.C. State.
Jared McCain fights for a layup during Duke's first half against N.C. State.

DALLAS—Fresh off an upset of No. 1-seed Houston, No. 4-seed Duke entered Saturday’s Elite Eight clash in the American Airlines Center staring down a familiar foe: No. 11-seed N.C. State. The Blue Devils have controlled a low-scoring affair so far, leading 27-21 at halftime:

Opening nerves

The last time these two teams met, Duke took more than four minutes to knock down its first field goal, and the offense looked out of sorts. With a spot in the Final Four on the line, the Blue Devils were understandably a little slow adjusting to the game, and struggled from the field to start. After senior guard Jeremy Roach opened with his patented pull-up jump shot, Duke missed six straight field-goal attempts. But the key to getting out of this funk was transition opportunities and getting to the free-throw line, which Jared McCain certainly helped with. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils still struggled from the field, shooting 30.8% in the first half. N.C. State was even worse, with a 26.5% clip that allowed Duke to keep the lead. 

The DJ Burns puzzle

Every team that N.C. State has played in this magical run has not quite figured out how to limit DJ Burns Jr.: Do you let him score in the post or double him and risk leaving open shooters and cutters? It’s a difficult decision, but initially, Duke decided to not double Burns. As a result, he scored eight out of the first 11 points for the Wolfpack, with his size and touch dominating inside. However, this allowed the Blue Devils to limit the 3-point shot, because Burns was not able to find wide-open players on the perimeter. N.C. State shot seven attempts from deep and only converted on one. Many of these were either in transition or after offensive rebounds, and the Wolfpack’s half-court offense struggled for the majority of the half. 

Bringing on the bench

With the absence of freshman guard Caleb Foster for the rest of the season, the bench production for the Blue Devils has taken a severe hit. While other bench players have played well in spurts, they have not played consistently game-in and game-out. Head coach Jon Scheyer turned to the bench early and often against the Wolfpack, subbing in Ryan Young, Sean Stewart and Jaylen Blakes all within the first 10 minutes of the game. Young competed with Burns and Ben Middlebrooks down low, and Stewart had a phenomenal help-side block on Middlebrooks after he rolled to the basket. Blakes had the difficult task of locking up DJ Horne, one of the best guards in this tournament. With sophomore starter Tyrese Proctor in foul trouble, Blakes’ presence was invaluable to keep Duke in front. 

Protecting the paint

Although Burns was able to score eight points in the half, the Blue Devils demonstrated immense physicality and toughness in the paint. They made it really difficult for N.C. State to score inside, and players not named Burns struggled. The Wolfpack only made 1-of-11 layups in the half, as Duke’s help-side defense was elite. The Blue Devils had four blocks as well, and collectively crashed the glass. N.C. State does a lot of work on the glass and is a dangerous second-chance scoring team, but it did not have any second-chance points throughout the first period. 

Player of the half: Jared McCain

The freshman guard was a spark in Duke’s offense when it needed it most. He scored eight straight points for the Blue Devils in the early minutes, including his signature transition triple to break a five-minute field-goal drought. He also did a great job drawing fouls, shooting and making seven free throws in the half. The Sacramento, Calif., native adds a whole new dimension to the offense, and can take away a help defender for other Duke players to drive to the basket. McCain played the entire first half and was a lead guard in Proctor’s absence. 


Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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