HOUSTON — The Man himself - John Wooden - often has made the observation that in March, good teams must find a way to win on bad nights.
So do good players.
If there was any doubt about it before Friday, there's none now. With Jon Scheyer going from lost to boss, Duke established its ability to win ugly - really ugly - with a 70-57 NCAA South Regional semifinal win over Purdue in Reliant Stadium.
The ACC champion Blue Devils (32-5) are a good team. Exactly how good, we're about to find out.
In order to set up a date opposite Baylor in Sunday's South championship at 5:05 p.m., the Blue Devils had to survive a game few teams could have won, much less by 13 points.
Other than defense and fierce rebounding that resulted in 48-27 domination on the boards, almost nothing clicked for much of the game.
Scheyer will be there Sunday in the wake of a performance so uneven that he might as well have been two different people against the 29-6 Boilermakers, who were bidding for the first 30-win season in school history.
For Duke, there was the first half that amounted to an experience that might have cost Scheyer sleepless nights 40 years from now. Then, there was a second half that may have the Blue Devils saluting his work all the way to Indianapolis and next weekend's Final Four.
"Rebounding was the key," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "But it was just a very tough game. For the first 17 minutes, Purdue was playing harder than we were, and we were playing really hard. The rest of the game, though, I thought we played harder.
"We just played a lot stronger in the second half. And when Jon hit his 3, he got going. He doesn't feel sorry for himself or say 'It's not my day.' He's an outstanding competitor. [The way he's shot recently] would have defeated a lot of kids, but he fights through."
Although Duke led 24-23 at the break, the half ranked among its most inept offensive performances in the long Krzyzewski era.
A combination of pathetic shooting, sloppy ball-handling and a sticky Purdue defense had the Blue Devils completely out of sync during the final eight or so minutes before intermission.
Scheyer missed all six of his field-goal attempts - the continuation of a shooting slump that has dogged the senior floor leader for most of the past month. His first hit didn't come until more than two minutes into the second half - a 3-pointer in transition that staked Duke to a 31-26 lead.
With 13:13 left in the half, Krzyzewski made the rare move of pulling Scheyer out of the lineup for a minute or so.
That break did nothing to revive his jump shot, and his only points during the first 20 minutes were a couple of free-throw conversions that left Duke with a 13-10 lead about two minutes after his trip to the bench.
Scheyer's misery then spilled over to Nolan Smith, who got decent looks but little luck. He missed eight of 10 shots in the half, which left almost all of the offensive burden on battle-scarred, stitched-up Kyle Singler, who had 11 points at halftime and 24 for the game.
Given a normal start by Duke standards, the halftime lead would have been in the 20-point range rather than one, and focus could have turned to Sunday and Baylor early.
Instead, the Devils had to wait for Scheyer to come into focus in the second half. It began in fitting fashion - with a deep 3-pointer that went in just seconds after he had missed for the seventh straight time.
But from there he was Jonny on the spot, pouring in 10 points during a matter of minutes to totally deflate Purdue's defense. He finished with 18, followed by Smith with 15.
"I had faith they would start falling at some point," Scheyer said. "You have to be positive. This feels good, but we can't relax yet. We want to keep going and enjoy these games after the season."
Baylor (28-7) used its no-frills zone defense and an overwhelming edge in athletic ability to turn the 10th-seeded Saint Mary's Gaels (28-6) into scrimmage fodder in the opener, 72-49.
"I haven't seen Baylor at all," Krzyzewski said. "I do know they play a tough zone, have two great guards and are very athletic."
In fact, Duke and Baylor have never met in men's basketball.
The Bears' win, combined with Kansas State's West victory over Xavier on Thursday, gave the Big 12 Conference two regional finalists, an accomplishment matched by the Southeastern Conference earlier Friday after Tennessee ousted Ohio State in the Midwest. The Vols joined Thursday winner Kentucky in the East.
Butler, the alma mater of Baylor coach Scott Drew, reached Thursday in the West by stopping top-seeded Syracuse to give the Horizon League a rare berth in the last eight. With the Orange out, the Big East's final bullet is West Virginia in that East game today against favored Kentucky.
Thanks to the Duke win, the ACC (6-5 in this NCAA) continues its tradition of regional championship presence.
Since 1975-76 season, the league has been shut out of the regional finals only three times. Each season - 1979 (Black Sunday), 2003 and 2006 - Duke either was the last league team standing or one of two.
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