Top overall seed Duke played its first game of the 2019 NCAA tournament Friday night in Columbia, South Carolina, and after a slow start Mike Krzyzewski’s team did what was expected in the second half. RJ Barrett led the way with 26 points and Zion Williamson added 25 as the Blue Devils beat North Dakota State by a final score of 85-62.
The two freshman forwards scored ten points apiece in the first half, but Duke led by just four (31-27) at the intermission as North Dakota State managed to do enough on both ends to hang around. The ACC champions grabbed control of the game just after halftime, as Williamson scored 11 points in a five-minute stretch. Duke stopped settling offensively, passing up challenged jump shots to attack the basket on a more consistent basis.
In addition to his 26 points Barrett tallied 15 rebounds and three assists, with Cam Reddish hitting two three-pointers and adding 12 points. Tre Jones accounted for five points and four assists, and junior forward Marques Bolden saw his first action since he suffered a sprained knee in Duke’s regular season finale. Bolden played 17 minutes off the bench, finishing with two points, two rebounds and two assists.
Barrett and Williamson are the first Duke freshmen to score 22 points or more in the same NCAA tournament game in program history.
North Dakota State, winners of the Summit League’s automatic bid, had just one double-digit scorer as Vinnie Shahid knocked down three three-pointers and finished with 20 points.
In addition to not having an answer for Williamson — there’s no shame in that — the Bison shot just 8-for-29 from beyond the arc and 36.2 percent from the field overall. The combination of NDSU’s struggles shooting the basketball and Duke’s high-level talent was too much for the underdogs to overcome, which is to be expected of a 1 vs. 16 matchup.
Duke, which has won at least one NCAA tournament game in each of the last five seasons since losing to Mercer in its 2014 NCAA tournament opener, will face either No. 8 VCU or No. 9 UCF on Sunday.