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After A Slow Start, Duke Wins 2019 NCAA Tournament Opener 85-62

It took a bit but when Duke got going, the going got tough for North Dakota State.

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North Dakota State v Duke
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - MARCH 22: RJ Barrett #5 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks the ball as teammate Zion Williamson #1 celebrates against the North Dakota State Bison in the second half during the first round of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Colonial Life Arena on March 22, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Duke survived and advanced Friday night, opening its 2019 NCAA-Tournament play with an 85-62 win over North Dakota State.

The game wasn’t quite the walk in the park suggested by the final score, at least not the first-half part. The underdog Bison led much of the first half. Guard Vinnie Shahid did pretty much whatever he wanted in the opening half and Duke rebounded like they were wearing oven mitts; the Blue Devils had all of one offensive rebound in the first half, against an under-sized North Dakota State team that has been outrebounded over the season.

After taking a 5-3 lead, Duke went over three minutes without scoring, falling behind 12-5.

“I thought we started out just taking jump shots and not working the ball,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “ Once you get behind, there’s the confidence level of the other team and the pressure of the game.”

“We did start out very sluggish,” Zion Williamson acknowledged. “We weren’t playing very well.”

Duke tied the game at 16-16 and took the lead at 18-16, on a Williamson dunk.

But the breakout didn’t come, not then anyway. Shahid put NDS up 25-24, with an old-fashioned three-point play.

Duke closed the half well, a Jordan Goldwire 3-pointer putting Duke up 31-25. It was his second three of the season. Shahid scored again and the teams went into the locker room 31-27 Duke.

Maybe not upset alert time. But the longer you let an underdog hang around, the more confidence they gain. With memories of Lehigh and Mercer barely buried under a layer of scabs, Duke needed to come out strong in the second half.

They did. Consider the first half a cold, bracing splash of water.

Duke pulled away as much on the defensive end as the offensive end.

Controlling Shahid--who had 15 first-half points--was an important part of that. Javin DeLaurier rejected Shahid on the first possession of the second half and that seemed to take the wind out of the underdog’s sails.

The Bison missed their first four shots of the second half, with a couple of turnovers thrown in. On the other end of the court, Williamson scored inside three times--once, rebounding his missed foul shot for a slam--and Cam Reddish knocked down a three.

“Before that even happened, my teammates were in my ear,” Williamson said of his second-half explosion. “They were just like be me, like be myself. My teammates, and obviously coach said the same thing. When they’re constantly telling you to be yourself, it just gives you energy, and I just try to bring energy for my team. I think in those situations I just happened to be in the right spot.”

Two minutes into the second half, Duke was up 40-27, a decisive 16-2 run spanning both halves,

Deep sigh of relief.

“They were pushing it down our throat,” R.J. Barrett said, “but we regrouped at halftime. So it was great to see what we did in the second half.”

North Dakota State never again got the deficit into single digits. The lead reached 20 at 52-32, then 30 at 79-49. Duke emptied the bench and the reserves spent much of the final few minutes missing dunks and clanking jumpers, which mattered only if you are of the gambling persuasion. I believe the spread was something in the 27-point range.

“ I thought our defense . . . picked up for the rest of the game after about ten minutes,” Krzyzewski said. “In the second half, we played just beautiful basketball for those 12 minutes. I thought we beat a really good team today, a championship team.“


The win moves Duke to 30-5, the program’s 15th 30-win season, all under Krzyzewski.

Barrett led Duke with 26 points, one more than Williamson. Reddish joined them in double figures, with a dozen.

Barrett’s 26 points give him 805 on the season. That’s the fifth best in school history. He’s four points behind 1986 Johnny Dawkins for fourth.

Williamson hit 12-of-16 from the field. He’s now at 69.6 percent for the season.

Shahid ended with 20, only two points over the final 17 minutes.

Duke controlled the boards after intermission. But it was Barrett (14) not Williamson (3) who led Duke to a 38-34 rebounding advantage. Duke only turned it over six times, while notching seven blocks and six steals.

Marques Bolden returned from his knee-injury absence to play 18 solid minutes. But Jack White did indeed sit this one out, nursing a sore hamstring.

Joey Baker hit a late three, his first college points.

Krzyzewski is now 95-29 in NCAA Tournament games. Duke is 112-37, with a .752 winning percentage, the best percentage in tournament history.


Player Of The Game vs. North Dakota State

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Javin DeLaurier
    (3 votes)
  • 40%
    RJ Barrett
    (389 votes)
  • 1%
    Cam Reddish
    (14 votes)
  • 49%
    Zion Williamson
    (474 votes)
  • 1%
    Tre Jones
    (13 votes)
  • 0%
    Justin Robinson
    (2 votes)
  • 3%
    Joey Baker
    (37 votes)
  • 0%
    Antonio Vrankovic
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Marques Bolden
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Jordan Goldwire
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    Alex O’ Connell
    (4 votes)
961 votes total Vote Now
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