Before Duke took the court and beat Yale for the right to advance to the Sweet 16, Miami played Wichita State.
As Matt Jones watched the Hurricanes race out to a 26-7 lead, he told teammate Sean Obi that they were witnessing the perfect way to start a game. Jones wished Duke could do that, too.
And then the Blue Devils did.
“In the moment, it felt good,” Jones said of Duke’s 46-19 start against the Bulldogs. “And we wanted to keep that lead so badly, but we know that they would make a run.”
That proved true, too.
Duke’s 27-point lead was down to just seven, 54-47, at the under-12 media timeout of the second half. In the final minute, the gap was down to three, 67-64. The Blue Devils needed pretty much all of that fast start to hold on and win, as Yale outscored them 39-23 over the final 20 minutes.
He’s gotten better and better. He’s not a plant that should be put in a jar. He’s a plant that should be allowed to grow, and he’s growing immensely.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Brandon Ingram
The full 40 minutes Saturday serve as a snapshot of the whole season. When the Blue Devils are hitting 3s and defending aggressively, staying with their man through ball screens, they can beat anyone in the country. That’s the team that beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill and gutted out wins against Louisville and Virginia at home.
But when the Blue Devils become passive on defense and can’t hit shots at a high rate, then other problems start to magnify, like that fact that they don’t have a true point guard to handle the ball against a press (the Bulldogs pressure forced eight second-half turnovers). Second-half Duke was the team that lost at Clemson and the Syracuse and Notre Dame at home, and then again to the Irish in the ACC tournament after blowing a 16-point lead.
“Our house is on a cliff, and we hope it doesn’t rain. That’s who we’ve been,” Mike Krzyzewski said as he described his team.
For all the Blue Devils’ faults, they never stop fighting. Even against the Fighting Irish, Duke forced overtime after giving back the lead. And so when the Bulldogs were fully back in the game midway through the second half, Duke did find a way to calm down (amid screaming at each other to calm down) enough to hold on for the 71-64 win.
The switch to a 1-3-1 zone defense with about nine minutes left helped. Giving the ball to Brandon Ingram, who has no physical equal on the court, helped, too, as the freshman scored 11 points in the final 11 minutes. He also made two one-and-one free throws when Yale cut the lead to 67-64 (he later missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Duke was up five then).
“He’s gotten better and better,” Krzyzewski said of Ingram. “He’s not a plant that should be put in a jar. He’s a plant that should be allowed to grow, and he’s growing immensely.”
Duke will always benefit from the fact that they have two of the best college basketball players on the floor in Ingram and Grayson Allen. Ingram, with his 7-foot-3 wingspan that aids him at both ends of the floor, might be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. And when Allen gets hot, he can score 22 points in 17 minutes, just like he did in the first half.
Of Duke’s 71 points, 54 came from Allen and Ingram (76 percent), and Luke Kennard added 13. No one else had more than two. Allen and Ingram can carry Duke offensively, and if the rest of their teammates can defend, it all adds up to a pretty lethal combination. It has, after all, made Duke one of the 16 teams last standing out of a field of 351.
“I mean,” Krzyzewski said, “That’s a heck of a thing for this group.”