Duke is taking this “survive and advance” thing a bit too seriously.
For the second straight game, the Blue Devils flirted with the end of their season and watch an opponent’s last-second shot fall off the rim to preserve a Duke victory.
“It’s pretty nerve wracking,” center Marquis Bolden said. “We’re just going to try and come out from the jump next time.”
In a final 30 seconds that featured two time outs and two replay reviews, Virginia Tech missed two potential game-winning threes and a wide-open game-tying layup at the buzzer, allowing Duke to escape with a 75-73 win and advance to the Elite Eight.
Duke will play Michigan State with a Final Four berth on the line Sunday at 5:05.
The Blue Devils’ dance with adversity began shortly before the opening tip. Cam Reddish, Duke’s third-leading scorer, went down with a knee injury.
“We didn’t know until right before the game that he wasn’t going to be able to play,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He went out. He just had something wrong with his knee. He was limping.”
Alex O’Connell, who didn’t play in Duke’s previous tournament game, got the word that he was going to start.
“(Assistant coach Jon) Scheyer, RJ (Barrett) and Zion (Williamson) told me I was going to start with ten minutes on the clock left, because Cam decided he wasn’t going to play,” O’Connell said.
The sophomore responded with four points, two assists, a steal and a career-high seven rebounds in 35 minutes.
“You know I had to get even more mentally ready and physically ready,” he said, “but I think I brought it tonight.”
The Duke freshmen also brought it. Williamson scored 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Barrett had 18 with 11 assists—the latter a Duke school record for a freshman in a tourney game. Point guard Tre Jones took Reddish’s place as the team’s outside threat, hitting five-of-seven from three-point range and scoring 22 points.
“Tre has always been there,” Williamson said. “We knew he could score. Tonight, we knew they would let Tre shot it. So Coach was the first one to say, ‘Tre, they’re playing off you. Shoot it. Nobody is telling you not to shoot it. We all have confidence in you.’”
Duke erased a four-point halftime deficit to lead by as much as eight in the final 10 minutes. With 3:01 to play, the lead was still seven. Then Tech rallied to cut it to a one possession game in the waning seconds.
That’s when Duke decided to dance with the devil once more. A week after Central Florida’s two layup attempts rimmed out in a one-point Blue Devils win, Virginia Tech got multiple shots to win or tie at the buzzer.
With a two point lead and 29 seconds to go, Jones missed the front end of a one-and-one, allowing the Hokies to take their three shots at short-circuiting Duke’s season.
Ahmed Hill’s three-attempt missed wildly with 10 seconds left. Kerry Blackshear rebounded—his 16th of the game, 11 of them coming on the offensive end. Ty Outlaw missed another three with three seconds left. The ball reflected out of bound off Duke, giving Tech one more shot.
With 1.1 seconds left and Duke defending the three, Hokies coach Buzz Williams drew up a play for a layup at the buzzer.
It ran to perfection, with Hill getting the pass right in front of the rim with no defender in sight. He appeared to rush his shot, and it went off the side of the rim, allowing Duke to play another day.
When asked about Duke’s defense on that play, Krzyzewski said, “I saw a miss.”
The follow-up question asked him how Duke usually defends that situation.
“Better,” Coach K answered.
On a day when his Blue Devils survived and advanced, again, no further explanation was necessary.