No. 7 Duke pulls away in second half for 88-55 win over Lafayette

Duke's Mark Williams (15) blocks a shot by Lafayette's Chris Rubayo (44) during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Durham, North Carolina. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images/TNS)
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Steve Wiseman The News & Observer (TNS)

DURHAM, N.C. — Junior Wendell Moore pulled Duke out of a first-half offensive funk and led the No. 7 Blue Devils to another lopsided win Friday night.

Moore scored a game-high 23 points, including 15 in the second half when Duke turned an eight-point halftime lead into an 88-55 nonconference win over Lafayette at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

After shooting 33% in the first half to lead 35-27 at intermission, Duke (5-0) shot 59.5% in the second half as Moore led the way.

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Freshman AJ Griffin scored 18 points off the bench, with 14 of them in the second half, while sophomore center Mark Williams produced 14 points with 15 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Lafayette (0-4) shot 37.7% with 17 turnovers.

Duke built an early 23-7 lead and appeared ready to roll to an easy win over the winless Leopards. But Duke’s inability to penetrate the Lafayette zone, mostly settling for perimeter jump shots instead, left the Blue Devils with just an eight-point halftime lead.

But the Blue Devils hit 12 of their first 17 shots of the second half, collecting assists on six of those made shots, to open a 63-39 lead. Duke finished 45.6% from the field for the game.

Here’s what we learned from Duke’s latest win:

AJ Griffin finding his groove

Freshman forward AJ Griffin arrived at Duke with big potential, a five-star recruit whose brother played at Syracuse and whose father is an NBA assistant coach.

But health issues, namely knee and ankle injuries, have slowed Griffin’s growth. He played just 12 games as a high school junior and didn’t play at all last season. Griffin sprained his knee in practice in early October, sidelining him for two weeks.

He returned to play in all five games for Duke thus far, but he’s seen his most minutes in the last two games.

Against Lafayette on Friday night, the 6-7 Griffin saw his most extensive playing time and produced 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting (including 4 of 6 on 3-pointers) in 21 minutes of play.

Settling on offense won’t work

The Blue Devils were happy with their progress on half-court offensive sets in their 92-52 win over Campbell on Tuesday night as they collected 24 assists.

But that ball movement did not carry over to Friday night against Lafayette, especially in the first half. Duke settled for far too many jump shots and, even after taking a 23-7 lead, found itself with just a 35-27 halftime lead.

The Blue Devils shot 14 of 42 overall (33%) in the first 20 minutes while making only 4 of 16 3-pointers (25%). They had just eight assists in the first half.

That changed after halftime when Duke turned the game lopsided over the first nine minutes of the second half.

Duke’s defense regularly stifles

Already having earned a reputation for its tough defense in the young season, Duke completely stymied Lafayette over a nearly six-minute stretch of the first half.

While Duke scored 13 points in a row, Lafayette went from 14:29 to 8:48 with out scoring a point. The Leopards only took four shots, missing them, of course. But they turned the ball over seven times during the stretch with the Blue Devils netting two steals and forcing two shot-clock violations.

That allowed Duke to lead 21-5 and later 23-7.

Banchero searching for shooting stroke

Preseason ACC player of the year Paolo Banchero, a Duke freshman already projected as a top NBA draft prospect for next summer, had his second consecutive subpar shooting game.

After averaging 19.3 points over Duke’s first three games, Banchero scored just 10 on 4-of-9 shooting against Gardner-Webb on Tuesday. Against Lafayette, Banchero hit just two of his first 10 shots.

He finished 4 of 12 with 11 points.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Banchero’s back-to-back games with less than stellar play came following his involvement with Michael Savarino’s driving while impaired arrest in Orange County last Sunday morning at 1:10 a.m. Savarino was driving a car registered to Banchero, which left Banchero facing a lessor charge of aiding and abetting DWI.

While Savarino is not with the team and not allowed to take part in any team activities, Banchero has started and played the last two games as usual. That is, except for his scoring output.

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