Duke handled the “havoc” VCU pressure and escaped the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis with a 67-58 win.
Mason Plumlee had 17 points and 10 assists to led the way for Duke. He also helped break the Rams’ full court pressure defense. VCU missed six consecutive free throws (two of them were the front-end of a one-and-one) when the Rams trailed the Blue Devils 56-50 for a scoreless stretch that lasted nearly three and a half minutes.
But the biggest factor in Friday night’s game was the play of Duke sophomore point guard Quinn Cook and Duke’s ability to limit turnovers.
In the quarterfinals against Memphis, VCU’s havoc pressure forced 22 turnovers, but against Duke, the Rams could only come away with eight. Duke was rushed at moments, but for the most part kept composure, kept the floor spread and most importantly got to the line, where they shot 24-of-27.
Cook’s play in the last possession of the first half and the initial run of the second half was the turning point for the Blue Devils. Cook to a tough right-handed layup that banked in to give Duke a 29-28 lead going into halftime. To begin the second half, the first nine points for Duke came off passes from Cook.
On the first play, Cook was able to find Plumlee at the hoop for an easy bucket. Later in transition, Cook took a lead pass from Rasheed Sulaimon and like a hot potato quickly got rid of it to Plumlee for the alley-oop. Duke started off the half on a 15-4 run to open the lead to 44-32.
VCU came back, gaining momentum, cutting the lead to 54-50 with a Juvonte Reddic layup with over nine minutes to play. Cook scored on a layup from Plumlee to make it 56-50 and that’s when the free throw woes began for VCU. At the time the Rams were 10-of-11 from the line, but six straight free throws clanked off the rim at a crucial moment of the game. Following Cook’s layup at 8:18, Duke didn’t score again until a pair of Seth Curry’s free throws at 4:58 remaining.
What Duke did was it took away two of VCU’s strengths. Duke only coughed the ball up eight times – three were from Cook, who had a game-high nine assists. The Blue Devils defense also didn’t let the Rams connect from deep, only shooting four-of-20 from behind the arc.
Duke got 15 points from Curry, with Sulaimon adding 12. Cook scored nine points. VCU was led by Reddic’s double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Duke plays the winner of Missouri-Louisville.