Duke by a silly centimeter.
Just like Wake Forest, just like North Carolina, but with way more at stake, Central Florida, down by a point, missed twice in the final seconds, a follow shot barely rolling off as time expired. After a heart-attack inducing back-and-forth Duke survived Central Florida 77-76, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen for the 27th time in program history.
Maybe staggering to the Sweet Sixteen is more like it.
But 68 teams began NCAA Tournament play a few days ago and 52 of them are done.
Duke is not done.
Much of the talk over the last few days has been about Mike Krzyzewski matching up with Johnny Dawkins, his first great recruit and a long-time Duke assistant.
But maybe we should have been focused on J.D.’s son Aubrey, CFU’s marvelous 6-6 wing.
Aubrey Dawkins absolutely torched Duke, pushing his team to an early lead and bringing them back every time Duke threatened to put it away. But Duke kept the ball out of his hands at the end of the game and maybe that was the edge Duke needed.
J.R. Barrett was certainly impressed by Dawkins.
“I knew he was going to come out and try to be aggressive. He really grew up with Duke, so to play against us is probably a dream come true for him. He played his butt off, and he was tough to stop for us tonight.”
If Duke had any illusions of cruising into next week, they were disabused pretty early on. Tacko Fall, all 7-6 of him, slammed home his own miss 30 seconds into the game and then the Knights started raining three-pointers, three in the first six minutes, two by Dawkins.
Before you could say Upset Alert, Duke was down 19-13.
The Blue Devils appeared to right the ship over the final nine or so minutes of the opening half. Zion Williamson was winning most of his battle with Fall and Cam Reddish was adding some scoring. Duke caught up with a three-point play by Williamson and a three-pointer by Reddish, taking a 23-21 lead on the latter.
Duke turned up the defense at 34-34, forcing three late turnovers and taking a 44-36 lead into halftime.
Duke closed the first half on a 31-17 run and seemed poised to do to Central Florida what they had done two days earlier to North Dakota State, dominate the early stages of the second half and put it away.
Did. Not. Happen.
Not even close.
The Knights were the team that exploded out of the locker room, scoring the first seven points, two dunks by Fall and another bomb by Dawkins.
Duke kept flirting with a big lead, 51-43 on a Williamson-three-pointer, 66-59 on another Williamson bucket. But Dawkins, Fall and B.J. Taylor never blinked. Taylor kept getting to the line and kept converting--nine-for-10 on the evening--and Reddish picked up his fourth foul with almost 14 minutes left.
Three-pointers by Dayon Griffin and Taylor gave UCF a 70-68 lead and a Dawkins jumper and assist to Fall for a dunk that kinda, maybe, shoulda not counted--shot clock violation anyone--made it 74-70, two minutes left, Duke’s season hanging by a fraying thread, especially when Tre Jones missed a three and CFU grabbed the rebound and rushed down court for a two-on-one fast break.
We’ll hear a lot over the next few days about Duke being flat or over-confident or nervous and I hope we hear a lot about the great job Johnny Dawkins did.
But when winning plays had to be made, Duke made winning plays.
Central Florida did not.
“We had a lot of time,” Krzyzewski says he told his team at the long review stoppage. “It was a long time to do that. And on the court, I said, look, no matter what the decision will be made, there’s going to be eight to ten, maybe more possessions in this game. And you guys were made for these two minutes and just be yourselves.”
It started when Dawkins fumbled that layup. Reddish cut the lead to a point with his third three-pointer of the evening.
Taylor made a couple of foul shots, making it 76-73 and setting up an unbelievable finish.
Williamson tried to tie it from downtown but came up empty. Javin DeLaurier--he had just missed two foul shots--grabbed the offensive rebound and Duke started over.
Williamson muscled inside for a layup, fouling out Fall, with 14.4 seconds left.
“A lot’s going through my mind,” Williamson said of that final drive, “but like Coach said, at that 2:09 mark when they were reviewing the play -- you know, I consider him the greatest coach of all time. When he looks at you and tells you that you’re made for this moment, it’s like the most confidence you can be given. So when I went to the basket, I knew it was going in.”
Williamson missed the tying foul shot but Barrett grabbed the miss and gently laid it in.
“I was just thinking what can we do to win this game,” Barrett said. “I remember watching March Madness and watching a whole bunch of games and seeing missed free throws, somebody gets a rebound and a put-back. So I thought, I’m just going to try to do whatever I can to get this rebound.”
The Knights called timeout with eight seconds left.
Taylor got the in-bounds pass and tried to turn the corner. But Jones stayed with him and forced a tough miss off the glass. Dawkins got the stick-back on the rim but it fell off as time expired, stunned disbelief the mood of the moment.
“You’ve got to play like there’s no tomorrow,” Williamson said of that final stop. “Tre played great defense and got -- like an off-balance shot. Dawkins came flying in. I mean, when he tipped it, you talk about microseconds, when that ball rolled around the rim, it looked like it was going in, but as Coach K talks a lot about the basketball gods, they had our back tonight.”
Krzyzewski acknowledged that Central Florida played at “as high a level of any team that we’ve played against all year.”
Krzyzewski summed up.
“You know, we had a lot of foul trouble, and we are young, and we’re not deep, but we’re good. But we had a lot of stuff go on today that was difficult for us, and they were still able -- and the most difficult was the other team, and we were able to find a way to win. These kids are that -- they have it. They have it. Hopefully, we can continue to advance, but I love who they are, and I have confidence in them. If they didn’t come through, then I got their backs, but they did come through.”
ACC rival Virginia Tech next up. Friday night.
Williamson and Dawkins each scored 32 points. Barrett (16), Reddish (13) and Jones (11) joined Williamson in double figures, while Fall and Taylor added 15 each for the Knights.
Duke’s starters played 176 of the available 200 minutes, with Williamson, Barrett and Jones going the distance; Reddish likely would have played more than his 32 minutes had foul trouble not intervened.
Jordan Goldwire had three points, two steals, a rebound and an assist off the bench while Marques Bolden had nine non-productive minutes.
Otherwise, the bench were cheerleaders.
Duke shot a solid 40 percent (10-25) from beyond the arc but was seven-for-12 from the line and won the rebounding battle by only two, 36-34. Duke did turn it over a modest eight times.
Player Of The Game vs. Central Florida
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