It wasn't a thing of beauty, perhaps, but Duke beat Creighton 66-50 and will advance to play Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen. Ragged Glory, perhaps, but far better than none at all.
People will naturally focus on the weak shooting (30% for Creighton; 38.8% for Duke), but in Creighton's case, it was largely because of Duke's defense.
Duke had two main defensive priorities in this game: first to control Doug McDermott, and second to suppress three point shooting.
As far as McDermott goes, while he ended up with 21 points and nine boards, he made his last shot with 5:28 to go in the first half. Duke ran a number of defenders at him and there's no question the constant pressure knocked him off his stride.
As far as the three point shooting went, Duke did a remarkable job on Creighton, a superb three point shooting outfit: the Bluejays were just 2-19 - one by McDermott (who was 4-16 overall and just 1-4 from three point range) and one quite late by Austin Chatman after the matter had been settled.
For Duke, while the foul trouble with Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee was both concerning and not very surprising - McDermott is a handful and despite his limited athleticism, Gregory Echenique is a big load in the paint - the best news was in how the problem was dealt with. Kelly and Plumlee both got their fourth early in the second half and managed to play almost the rest of the way without fouling out.Â Plumlee fouled out quite late but the game was over by then.
Kelly played 28 minutes; Plumlee 27. In that time they both did a lot of good things. Each blocked a shot and played really solid defense. Plumlee finished with 10 points and five boards; Kelly with just one point and four boards.
Kelly, highlighting his versatility, also made some gorgeous passes.
But mostly it was Duke's perimeter which provided the offense, and in particular Rasheed Sulaimon (21 points, 8-10 from the line) and Seth Curry (17 points). Quinn Cook finished with seven points, six assists and five rebounds. Tyler Thornton came off the bench forÂ eight points, six rebounds, a steal and a block.
Amile Jefferson had a minor stat line, but his basket, his rebounds and his block were all big plays, not to mention his defense.
Really, as we said, defense was the biggest thing in this game. Duke, a team which has been up and down defensively lately, was superb on that end of the floor.
Aside from the obvious points already mentioned, Duke clamped down on everyone: Echenique finished with nine, but three of his four baskets were late, and when the game was either decided or when Kelly and Plumlee couldn't really defend him due to fouls.
Grant Gibbs, who shot like Echenique shot 4-7,Â finished with eight. Austin Chatman was 2-11 for seven, but one was his late three. Ethan Wragge, so devastating from long range against Cincinnati, scored just three points.
Now consider these guys against Cincinnati on Friday: McDermott was 7-15, Echenique 5-7, and Wragge 4-5 (Gibbs and Chatman were a combined 2-8).
Cincinnati, mind you, is a team which is so limited offensively that they have no options but to win on defense.
Now it's on to the Sweet Sixteen in Indianapolis, a truly great basketball city. We have fond memories of 1991 in the Hoosier Dome - the games themselves of course, but also the people there. Everyone, with the exception of the security people in the arena, were unbelievably nice. It's a great town for the NCAA tournament.
Duke opens of course with Michigan State, and there are no secrets there: it's just basic defense, rebounding, smart, unselfish offense. It's nothing fancy, just basketball the right way.
If they pass that test, they'll get the winner of Louisville and Oregon. Louisville is favored, and rightly so, but Oregon hasn't really gotten the respect it deserves. They're pretty good too.
A Duke-Oregon matchup would be tough for Kyle Singler since his brother EJ plays for the Ducks, but in a sense he couldn't lose either way.
Now it's back to Durham to prepare. Duke and March - a beautiful combination.