Basketball is a game of runs.
Basketball cliche 101.
But cliches become cliches for a reason.
Michigan State had its share of runs Sunday evening against Duke, the final one threatening to knock Duke out of the arena.
But Duke had the final run, a monster one, 20-6 to be exact, leaving Duke with a deceptively one-sided 85-76 win over the Spartans that sends Duke to its 26th Sweet Sixteen since 1986.
And it was a team effort, Jeremy Roach, Mark Williams, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Moore, Jr. and Trevor Keels all making big plays in that closing run, big shots, big blocks, key foul shots.
Michigan State drew first blood, leading 7-2 and 9-4 early. Duke stabilized and got even at 11-11 and took its first lead at 17-16 on a Banchero jumper.
Duke extended its first-half lead to seven points on several occasions, the last at 31-24, ending a 16-8 Duke run.
Michigan State clawed back. Gabe Brown hit three 3-pointers in a span of 2:29 and the game was tied at 33-33 and 35-35. But Williams scored the last four points of the half and Duke took a tenuous 39-35 lead into intermission.
` Then Duke threatened to knock out Michigan State. Duke led by nine points at 44-35 and 46-37. But Tom Izzo’s teams do not back down, they do not give up and Krzyzewski said his team played young for awhile.
Duke’s lead shrunk, then disappeared and then suddenly, ominously Duke was behind 70-65, with 5:10 left, Duke on the short end of a 16-4 Spartans surge, four Duke points in a span over five minutes, Michigan State guard Ty Walker in control of the game.
But Duke has grown up since those last-second losses earlier in the season.
Banchero and Roach scored inside but Duke still trailed 72-69 with 3:43 left, shortly after the final media timeout.
“We got down and we were in the timeout and it was just like ‘look, we’ve got four minutes and we can either lay down or we can turn it up.’ That’s all it was, just fighting and having heart. Just trusting each other.”
Moore took on the leadership role he’s embraced all season.
“The game was far from over. There was still so much time on the clock, I knew we had a chance. I knew once we got our foot in the door, there was no looking back from there.”
Keels tied it with a triple, Williams got a huge block at the rim, Banchero muscled his way to a basket and Izzo called timeout, down 75-74, with 1:55 left.
But Banchero stuffed Joey Hauser on a drive and Roach hit a 3.
“I was thinking to myself, if I get open, I’m knocking it down,” Roach said. “The shot clock was winding down and I knew I had to make a play.”
Roach’s bomb made it 78-74 and the older, deeper, more physical Spartans team was the team on the ropes.
Duke put them away. Moore stole the ball and the Blue Devils made seven of eight from the line over the final minute.
Banchero led Duke with 19 points but was joined in double figures by Moore, Williams (five blocks) and Roach, all of whom had 15 points and Keels who had a dozen.
Duke hit 57 percent from the field, 76 percent (16-21) from the line, out-rebounded Michigan State 35-31 and turned it over only 10 times, while assisting 14 times.
Brown led MSU with 18 points.
“Losing didn’t come up one time,” Moore said of Duke’s stretch run. “Once we got in the huddle and looked in each other’s eyes, we knew we weren’t going to lose.”
The win checked a lot of statistical boxes. It was Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,200th career win and his 99th win in the NCAA Tournament. It leaves Duke at 30-6, the 16th 30-win season of his Duke tenure.
“I love these kids,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re becoming men. We were so good in the last part of the game. I can’t tell you how proud I am of them. They believe in one another.”
Third-seeded Texas Tech next in San Francisco, Thursday.
A tough match to be sure. But Duke survived a tough match, making the plays it needed to make down the stretch.
A good way to move on.
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Player Of The Game vs. Michigan State
This poll is closed