No. 2 seed Duke slowly but surely pulled away from No. 3 seed Michigan State in the second half on Friday night, advancing past the Spartans and into the Elite 8 with a 71-61 win.
The Blue Devils will take on No. 1 seed Louisville on Sunday night for the right to go to the Final Four.
That regional final will be a rematch of the Battle 4 Atlantis championship back in November, a game that Duke won while the Cardinals were playing without Gorgui Dieng. It sets up an even more intriguing matchup, as Rick Pitino, when he was with Kentucky, and Mike Krzyzewski played arguably the greatest college basketball game of all-time back in 1992.
You may remember the ending …
Back to the point, the reason that Duke is heading back to the Elite 8 isn’t because Seth Curry went off for 29 points and hit six threes, although that certainly didn’t hurt matters. It’s also not because of the play of Mason Plumlee, although the biggest Blue Devil was the best post player on the floor. He finished with 14 points, seven boards and a pair of blocks, which was valuable. So was the sequence in the second half when, after picking up his third foul, Plumlee immediately proceeded to score on back-to-back possessions in the post before drawing Derrick Nix’s third foul.
No, the credit for Friday’s win must be given to Duke’s defensive effort.
They held Michigan State to just 40.0% shooting from the field, a number that was much uglier before the Spartans scored a flurry of points in the final four minutes with Duke already up 13. More importantly, Michigan State couldn’t get into any kind of a rhythm offensively for the majority of the second half. Branden Dawson’s layup with 3:32 left in the game cut Duke’s lead to 62-53, snapping an 8:33 stretch where Michigan State didn’t hit a field.
It was that stretch that earned the Blue Devils the victory.
And it’s going to be that kind of defend that they need to play if they want to be able to knock off Louisville and make their way back to the Final Four.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.