Friday, February 23, 2024

5 observations from No. 22 Duke men’s basketball’s first half against Charlotte

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Hoping to rebound from a pair of losses against Arkansas and Georgia Tech, the 22nd-ranked Blue Devils are back on the hardwood of Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday afternoon against Charlotte. With 20 minutes still to play, Duke leads 45-27:

New lineup

For the first time in his young Duke career, freshman guard Caleb Foster was slotted into the Blue Devil starting five against Charlotte. Head coach Jon Scheyer turned to the Harrisburg, N.C., native to replace sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor, who was unavailable due to the ankle injury he suffered early on in Duke’s Dec. 2 loss to Georgia Tech. Sophomore forward Mark Mitchell also returned to the lineup after coming off the bench for the first time in his college career against the Yellow Jackets, as graduate center Ryan Young headed back to his role as a reserve.

Physical start

The first half was a physical battle from the tip, with both teams looking to get inside and attack the rim in the opening minutes. Senior guard Jeremy Roach drove to the hoop and was fouled as he finished a layup, converting the and-one opportunity. The 49ers reciprocated, as Dishon Jackson flushed back-to-back dunks to open the scoring for Charlotte.

The Blue Devils also looked noticeably more aggressive on the defensive end than they did in their two losses against Arkansas and Georgia Tech. From the opening possession, Duke’s guards were pressing up on the 49er ball handlers and looking to force mistakes and difficult shots. Charlotte committed six turnovers in the half.

Shooting showcase

By the time the half came to a close, four different Blue Devils had connected from behind the arc. Freshman guard Jared McCain scored the first points of the contest with a triple and added another one by the end of the opening period. Roach, Foster and junior guard Jaylen Blakes each followed up with a three of their own throughout the half. Duke shot 55.6% from downtown in the half, allowing it to build its substantial lead.

The Blue Devils were also very effective from the charity stripe, knocking down 10 of their 13 free-throw attempts.

Making the most of the fast-break

Back in the comfort of its home stadium, Duke got off and running on the fast-break. The Blue Devils converted 15 points in transition and were able to hold the 49ers to just two fast-break points. Highlights included a long-range McCain pass to a streaking Mitchell, who dunked it home for two. Duke’s 45 points were its most in a first half this season, and they came in large part thanks to the Blue Devils’ ability to turn defense to offense in a hurry.

Player of the half: Jared McCain

From the very start, the clear star of the half was McCain. The Sacramento, Calif., native’s three kickstarted the Blue Devils to an early lead that they would only continue to build on. McCain finished the period with a team-high 14 points and added three assists without turning the ball over. With the length of Proctor’s absence currently unknown, McCain could step up into a big role for Scheyer and his squad.

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