PITTSBURGH — While the Virginia-UMBC game the night before may have pulled in big ratings, Duke was happy to be able to remove the drama early on Saturday afternoon.
“That’s what you hope to do,” Grayson Allen said. “Guys have been watching other games, and we understand that anybody can lose. If you get down early, it can become ugly quick. If you get up 10 to 15 points and let a team come back into it, they can beat you. We didn’t want any of those things to happen. We wanted to get that lead and extend it and stay hungry.”
Mission accomplished. While it won’t earn any headlines or social media buzz, Duke turned in a workmanlike 87-62 win over Rhode Island to advance to the Sweet 16. The Blue Devils will play either Syracuse or Michigan State in Omaha on Friday.
Duke’s shots weren’t falling early, allowing Rhode Island to hang in for awhile. At the second TV timeout, the Rams were leading, 11-10.
“We started off not hitting all of our shots,” Wendell Carter Jr. said. “But shots are going to fall. We’re a very talented team, as long as we keep working hard, which we did.”
Carter kept the team in the game in the early going, scoring 10 of Duke’s first 13 points on a variety of dunks and layups. He finished the day with 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting, adding six rebounds and three assists.
The Virginia loss was in his mind as he came out strong to start the game.
“It’s March Madness,” he said. “That’s what this tournament is all about — upsets. Everybody’s here for a reason. The Virginia game definitely put something in the back of our head that we can lose to anybody.”
Coming out of that break, the Blue Devils went on an 18-3 run that removed all doubt about the outcome.
“It was great,” said Gary Trent Jr. “Whenever everybody’s knocking down shots and getting in spots for rebounds, it’s great for us. It picks us up. It picks our spirits up. That’s what we try to do — we try to run on teams.”
Trent hit four 3-pointers and finished with 18 points, second on the team to Marvin Bagley III’s 22 points. Bagley also added a team-high nine rebounds.
The only drama on the day came in the stands, as Carter’s mother, a fixture at all Duke games this season, was heckled by Rhode Island fans while sitting behind the Duke bench. Security intervened, removing the fans and seating Mrs. Carter in a different location.
“I know my mom’s going to handle that situation correctly,” Carter said. “I’m not worried about her doing anything out of character. I don’t like anybody going against my mother. But that’s kind of what a lot of people have to go through. We’re such a good team. People are going to find a way to get us out of our game in any way possible. They went to my mother. It’s definitely frustrating that she had to go through that.”