Down an injured starter, No. 1 Duke still got an extra boost of offense from freshman point guard Tre Jones to reach the NCAA tournament’s final eight.
Jones scored a career-high 22 points Friday as the top-seeded Blue Devils overcame starting forward Cam Reddish’s absence due to a knee injury to beat fourth-seeded Virginia Tech 75-73 in an East Region semifinal at Capital One Arena.
Jones hit five of his seven 3-point attempts for the Blue Devils (32-5), who returned to the regional final for the second consecutive season. Duke plays for a berth in the Final Four on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. against second-seeded Michigan State. The Spartans (31-6) eliminated third-seeded LSU 80-63 Friday night.
Zion Williamson led Duke with 23 points while RJ Barrett scored 18, including 15 in the second half as Duke rallied from a 38-34 halftime deficit.
The Blue Devils, who led 73-66 with 3:01 to play, survived a late Virginia Tech rally to advance.
Duke’s lead was 75-73 with 29.1 seconds left when Jones missed the front end of a one-and-bonus free throw. Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill missed a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left but the Hokies grabbed the rebound near the sidline. After a timeout with 5.8 seconds to play, Ty Outlaw missed a 3-pointer and the ball went out of bounds off Barrett with 1.1 seconds left.
Hill took an inbounds pass and had a clear shot at the rim from the lane but misfired as time expired.
“You know Hill kind of did a loop and, I’m not even going to lie to you,” Williamson said. “When he caught it, I said, ah, we’re about to go to overtime. I mean, I don’t know what happened. Like it just kind of went our way with that play.”
Kerry Blackshear led Virginia Tech (26-9) with 18 points, while Hill scored 15 and Justin Robinson 14.
“They are so difficult to defend,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And in the second half, our guys did a really good job of that.”
After Virginia Tech led 38-34 at halftime, the game’s lead changed hands seven times, with four ties, over the first eight minutes of the second half.
But the Hokies’ offense went cold while Barrett and Duke heated up.
Barrett scored 13 points during the first eight minutes after halftime, with his bank shot in transition with 12:07 left giving Duke a 53-52 lead. That basket started a 9-0 Duke run as Virginia Tech went four minutes and four seconds without scoring.
When Williamson passed out of a double-team to Jones, Duke’s point guard nailed a 3-pointer from the corner giving the Blue Devils a 56-52 lead.
When Jones stole the ball from Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker to start a fast break, he tossed a lob pass toward the rim. Williamson leaped high over the Hokies defenders to slam home two points for a 58-52 Duke lead with 10:31 remaining.
Barrett collected his 10th assist on a post feed to Bolden, whose basket with 8:20 to play gave Duke a 60-52 lead.
Williamson’s spin move for a basket with 7:05 left put Duke up 64-57 when Virginia Tech made a push.
Robinson hit one free throw before Williamson turned the ball over on an offensive foul. Blackshear got the ball in the lane to score and draw a foul from Javin DeLaurier, and Blackshear’s free throw cut Duke’s lead to 64-61 with 6:23 remaining.
Alexander-Walker’s 3-pointer at 5:11 sliced Duke’s lead to 66-64.
But Duke staved off the charge as Jones nailed a 3-pointer with 3:49 left. Williamson got free on the baseline for a two-handed slam dunk with 3:01 to play giving Duke a 73-66 lead.
Duke’s only points the rest of the game were two Bolden free throws with 1:21 to play. Blackshear scored inside with 1:09 left trimming Duke’s lead to 75-71. After Williamson turned the ball over on an offensive foul, Robinson’s free throws with 29.6 left pulled the Hokies within a basket.
But Duke survived the game’s final flurry, just as it did in last Sunday’s 77-76 second-round win over Central Florida.
“I mean, now it’s March Madness,” Barrett said. “Every game is kind of supposed to be like this. Close, hard-fought games. And we somehow find a way to keep winning at the end.”
With Alex O’Connell in the starting lineup as Reddish was a late scratch with a sore knee he felt in warmups, Duke trailed by as many as six points in the first half before the Hokies took a 38-34 halftime lead.
Virginia Tech’s strong 3-point shooting early allowed it to forge ahead. The Hokies made seven of their first 13 3-pointers.
After Duke took a 28-24 lead when O’Connell scored a transition basket off a pass from Jones, the Hokies hit three consecutive 3-pointers over a span of 1:13.
Robinson’s 3-pointer at 4:28 put Virginia Tech up 33-30.
Jones 3-pointer for Duke tied the score, but the Hokies scored the game’s next five points as Duke went scoreless on its next five possessions with three turnovers.
A Blackshear free throw, Bede’s rebound basket and Hill’s layup off a Duke turnover gave Virginia Tech a 38-33 lead.
Barrett hit a free throw with 3.3 seconds left in the half leaving Duke down by four points at halftime.