LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Duke hit Auburn with a flurry of alley-oops, acrobatic drives and step-back 3-pointers.
The Tigers, unlike the Blue Devils’ first four opponents, fought back, going right back at the top-ranked Blue Devils.
It still wasn’t enough.
Duke withstood its toughest test of the season so far, outlasting No. 8 Auburn 78-72 Tuesday night to reach the Maui Invitational title game.
“Big time game. Both teams played so hard,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That was a heck of a win for us. To play this level of game at this time of the year is amazing for us.”
Duke (5-0) came into the game as the tournament favorite and looked like it would run Auburn out of the gym after racing past San Diego State in the opener.
The Tigers (4-1) clawed back to pull the Blue Devils within reach, yet could never get a firm grip.
Duke answered every Auburn challenge, earning a chance to play No. 3 Gonzaga for a shot at an unprecedented sixth Maui Invitational title.
Marques Bolden, an upperclassmen leader among all the talented freshmen, keyed the defensive, blocking seven shots while scoring seven points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Zion Williamson provided the wow factor with acrobatic moves to the basket, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Jared Harper nearly kept the Tigers in it singlehandedly with deep 3-pointers in the second half. He had 22 points and Bryce Brown 16 for Auburn.
“We’re very disappointed that we weren’t able to take advantage of the opportunity,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Our great strength is our balance and I think when we continue to become a little bit more balanced in many ways we’ll continue to become a better team.”
The Blue Devils came to Maui yet to be tested, leaving fans wondering what they’ll do next through the first four ooh-and-ahh-inducing routs.
The Blue Devils express kept rolling at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Duke stymied Auburn defensively early, limiting the Tigers to 4-of-20 shooting while jumping out to a 20-8 lead.
But Tigers would not lay down that easy. Boosted by a large contingent of rowdy supporters, they held Duke without a field goal for five minutes, got out in transition and whittle what seemed like an insurmountable lead to six just before halftime.
Duke tried to run away with it by scoring the second half’s first eight points, Auburn clawed its way back, trimming what was once a 17-point deficit to 61-56.
But every time the Tigers tried to get close, the Blue Devils had an answer with an alley-oop dunk or a Bolden block.