After building a 27-point lead in the first half, West No. 4 Duke appeared well on its way to an appearance in the Sweet 16 in Anaheim next week. But Mike Krzyzweski’s team took its foot off the gas pedal during the latter stages of the first half, and just over four minutes into the second half No. 12 Yale began a run that saw them trim the Blue Devil lead to three points in the game’s final minute.
Luckily for Duke that was as close as the Bulldogs would get, as the combination of defensive stops and free throws sealed the 71-64 win for the defending national champions.
Defensively Duke, which struggled with defending Yale early in the second half, made the switch to a 1-3-1 zone with Brandon Ingram at the top and that move helped slow the Bulldogs somewhat. Makai Mason, who scored 31 points in the win over Baylor Thursday, was more of a distributor Saturday as he racked up seven assists. But he also shot just 2-for-12 from the field, and on this day Yale needed more from their sophomore point guard scoring-wise in order to advance.
Having the 6-foot-9 Ingram, with his incredible wingspan, at the top of the zone impacted the vision of the Yale guards and while there was some good ball movement down the stretch there wasn’t enough to completely close the gap. Forwards Brandon Sherrod (22 points) and Justin Sears combined for 34 points and 19 rebounds, taking advantage of the Duke front court especially when Marshall Plumlee had to sit due to foul trouble.
Ultimately James Jones’ team not having an answer for the tandem of Ingram and Grayson Allen early cost them dearly. Those two combined to score 21 of Duke’s 23 second-half points, and they finished with a total of 54 points (29 for Allen) on the afternoon.
Whether it’s No. 1 Oregon or No. 8 Saint Joseph’s in the Sweet 16, Duke will need more from the supporting cast if they’re to play any deeper into the NCAA tournament. After building a large lead, Duke was the basketball version of a boxer ahead on the cards who simply aimed to hang on for the win as opposed to landing the decisive blow. Luckily for them, that 27-point hole was a little too deep for a determined Yale squad to climb out of.