COLUMBIA, S.C. — In the 13 previous times Duke has received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils have won their opening game by an average of 30 points. So, when North Dakota State took the lead with 2:34 remaining in the first half on Friday, there was some concern on the sideline.
The Blue Devils recovered, opening the second half with a 25-6 run to cruise to the second round with an 85-62 win over the Bison.
“I thought we started out just taking jump shots and not working the ball,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Once you get behind, there’s the confidence level of the other team and the pressure of the game.”
That pressure was intensified by NDSU guard Vinnie Shahid, who scored 15 of his team’s 27 points in the first half, driving past Duke point guards Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire to shoot 6 of 10 from the field.
“The kid, Shahid, is a dominant leader,” Krzyzewski said, “and he played so well today, especially in the first half.”
Duke clamped down on Shahid in the second half, holding him to five points on 1-of-4 shooting with three turnovers.
Duke’s Zion Williamson helped get the Blue Devils on track in the second half with a pair of spectacular plays. The freshman Player of the Year award winner got fouled while scoring the first points of the second half. He then missed the and-one free throw but was able to rebound his own miss and dunk it home. A short time later, he chased down a loose ball for a steal, outrunning Shahid to the ball. While struggling to maintain his balance, Williamson dribbled the ball behind his back and laid it in to give Duke a 13-point lead.
“Before that even happened, my teammates were in my ear,” Williamson said. “There were like, just be me, be myself. I just try to bring energy for my team.”
In his first game back in his home state since coming to Duke, Williamson scored 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting. Teammate RJ Barrett had 26 points and 14 rebounds, tying Elton Brand’s school freshman record for an NCAA Tournament game.
“We were excited,” Barrett said, “definitely excited to play. We’ve all been growing up, watching the tournament for many years. We didn’t have much energy — we weren’t really playing well at the beginning. Thankfully, we were able to pick it up.”
Duke played without Jack White, who said he felt his hamstring pop in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State last Saturday. White said a scan revealed a partial tear, but he’s hopeful to be able to return for later rounds of the tourney. Duke got back center Marquis Bolden, who missed the ACC Tournament with an MCL injury. Wearing a knee brace, Bolden scored two points with three rebounds and a block.
Freshman Joey Baker also scored his first points as a Blue Devil, knocking down a 3-pointer late in the game.