by Jim Sumner
I've seen a fair number of 15 seeds in my life and Lehigh isn't one.Â Unfortunately, Duke wasn't a two seed, either.Â At least not Friday night, in Greensboro.
The result was a 75-70 Lehigh victory over the Blue Devils, a disappointing ending to a season that once held so much promise.
Mike Krzyzewski said at Thursday's press conference that Lehigh absolutely had the talent to beat Duke and to a man, the Duke players said they believed him.Â So, maybe Lehigh was just better.
Duke struggled last week in Atlanta and Krzyzewski placed the blame on his offense and said it was his job to fix it.Â Maybe it was the absence of injured Ryan Kelly, maybe it was chemistry or bad karma or. whatever.Â But Duke seemed tentative and out of sync for most of the last three games.
Mason Plumlee, Duke's best player against Lehigh, with 19 points and 12 rebounds, said it's not one thing.Â "I wish I could tell you.Â I think if we knew the one thing it was, we would have addressed it before the fact.Â But for whatever reason, we couldn't get everybody working together.Â It's a tough way to lose because we have talent, we have players."
Duke went to Mason Plumlee inside earlyÂ with great success. He had three dunks in the first three minutes, forcing Lehigh to double him every time he touched the ball.
That should have opened the gates for a flood of 3-pointers.Â But Duke lost its 3-point mojo a few weeks back and never found it.Â Duke didn't score on anything other than lay-ups or free throws until Josh Hairston hit a 15-footer to tie the game at 21, with 3:18 left in the first half.Â The Blue Devils ended the first half shooting 1-for-10 from beyond the arc, Austin Rivers notching the one success.
Still, Duke ended the first half on a 13-7 run.Â Andre Dawkins hit a mid-range jumper to give Duke a 30-28 lead at intermission.
The Duke faithful hoped that this would shake Dawkins out of his slump and the anticipation was palpable every time he shot.Â But the makes didn't come and the streak didn't come.
Likewise, Seth Curry suffered through a miserable shooting night.Â The duo went 3-18 from the field.
On the other end of the floor, Lehigh went to guard C.J. McCollum, who entered the game as the nation's fifth-leading scorer.Â Josh Hairston said Duke wanted to make McCollum work for his shots and he did miss 15 of his 24 field-goal attempts.
But Krzyzewski said they needed to keep him off the line and Duke was decidedly unsuccessful in that regard.Â McCollum kept going to the line and keeping Duke in foul trouble.Â Curry, Dawkins and Tyler Thornton all sat out key portions of the game with foul trouble.
Duke used a 5-0 run to take a 37-32 lead 2:35 into the second half.Â The momentum lasted barely 90 seconds, the amount of time it took Lehigh to regain the lead.
The stretch run was the kind of basketball that makes March Madness so compelling, at least if you don't have a Duke rooting interest.
Which you do.Â Duke simply couldn't put away the increasingly confident underdogs, who played with a panache and verve absent from the tight Blue Devils.Â Austin Rivers scored five points in short order to put Duke up 42-39, but Lehigh responded with an 8-0 run.Â It was like that down the stretch, Duke giving Lehigh chances to fold, Lehigh declining the offers.
Lehigh led 61-54 with 1:59 left, 65-57 with 56 seconds left.Â Duke cut the lead to three points twice after that but Lehigh avoided the fatal mistake.
Thus begins the off-season, much earlier than anyone anticipated or wanted but reality nonetheless.
NOTES.Â Lots of streaks ended Friday.Â This was Lehigh's first win over Duke in five tries and their first NCAA Tournament win.Â It was Duke's first-ever NCAA Tournament loss in Greensboro, after 12 wins.
Mason Plumlee made all nine of his field goal attempts. The rest of the team went 15-for-49.Â That includes only 6-16 on 3-pointers.Â Duke also forced only eight turnovers.
Duke Basketball Blue Book
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