Give Duke credit for its big comeback vs. NC State

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Duke wasn’t going to let bad things come in threes.

Florida State had already come to Cameron Indoor and snapped the Blue Devils’ 45-game home win streak on January 21st. Reggie Cameron used his 27 points to power Miami past Duke on that same floor on Feb. 5.

So, staring a 16-point halftime deficit in the face on Thursday night against NC State, 26 points from guard Seth Curry led a dominant second half attack that paralyzed the Wolfpack and let Duke storm back and escape with a 78-73 victory in Durham, N.C.

Curry sprained his ankle early in the game, but returned to lead the Blue Devils.

“It took me a while to get back into the game,” he said. “We have been in this situation before. My team did a great job of not quitting.”

NC State was on the offensive in the first half, using their high-powered transition game to capitalize on a poor shooting effort from Duke.

Through the first 20 minutes, Duke’s backcourt had combined to shoot 4-of-19 from the floor and 1-of-13 from three-point range, while NC State was shooting at a 55% clip and held a +7 rebounding margin.

Then came the storm that the Wolfpack could not weather.

Already having had three players rack up at least two fouls in the first half, NC State registered another four fouls in the first 3 minutes of the second, which fundamentally changed the way coach Mark Gottfried’s team played at both ends of the floor.

In all, three players fouled out, including forward CJ Leslie, who was the athletic engine behind much of the Wolfpack attack in the first half. He finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, and six blocks.

Which brings about the real question: Did Duke win this game or did NC State lose it?

Dave Ommen has NC State as a 12 seed in NBC’s latest NCAA Tournament projections. The one glaring hole in their resume, though, is a signature win. It seemed they were in line for that on Thursday night at Cameron Indoor, before their second half collapse.

The hot shooting they enjoyed in the first half was neutralized by Duke’s pressure defense. Combine that with a better shooting effort from the Blue Devils, which struck at the heart of the Wolfpack’s transition game, and the unfavorable foul situation.

Put that in the momentum-strangling environment of Cameron Indoor, and it looks like Duke won this basketball game.

Credit goes to coach Mike Krzyzewski for adjusting his team’s defense and turning up the pressure for the final 10 minutes of the game, which gave the Blue Devils a crucial +10 turnover margin.

“Our big guys did a great job in the second half rebounding and playing defense,” said Curry after the game. “I could tell early in the game that they were trying to take us off the three point line. We just kept attacking.”

Austin Rivers finished with 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He was more of the problem than the solution in the first half, going 0-of-4 and settling for shots on the perimeter.

In the second, he showed why he was Duke’s best dribble penetrator and took better shots, while opening up the lane for kick-outs and 7-of-15 team shooting from beyond the arc in the second half.

The Blue Devils ripped off a 20-3 run to put them up by five with one minute to play. But, it really didn’t get to that point before you could feel the grip of Cameron Indoor tightening around NC State.

The contrast between the first and second halves show the concerns and the praises surrounding Duke, headed into March.

Take a look at the first half: poor rebounding, cold shooting, a perimeter defense full of holes.

And transition to the second: better shooting, defense that can force turnovers, and better shooting from the perimeter.

Which Duke will we see down the stretch?

“We put ourselves in a good position to win this conference,” said Curry. “Now we have to go on the road and get two road wins.”

One of those road games? A rematch with early-season spoiler Florida State on February 23rd.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

Rob Carr/Getty Images
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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: