COLUMBIA, S.C. — Just two minutes. That’s all it took for Duke to flex its muscle Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.
A 9-0 run to start the second half quickly dispelled any upset thoughts by North Dakota State and the Blue Devils went on to an 85-62 victory at Colonial Life Arena. It was a game effort by the Bison, a noble first half that saw them trail by only four points to the tournament’s top seed, but talent ultimately took over.
Talent like 6-foot-8, 285-pound Duke forward Zion Williamson. Talent like 6-8 sharpshooter Cam Reddish. Talent like 6-7 forward RJ Barrett. All freshmen.
Leading 31-27 at halftime, Williamson took matters into his own hands with six dazzling points. He opened the half with an inside hoop, then grabbed his own rebound after missing a free throw and a thunderous slam dunk made it 35-27.
“We were just more ourselves,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We didn’t start the game the way we have played. We started it being jump shooters and just being fast break. Most of our possessions had no passes and therefore we had no rebounds.”
Reddish followed with a 3-pointer from the wing. Williamson took a Bison turnover the other way and the 285-pounder tip-toed in a layup and it was 40-27 with 17:58 left in the game.
“You saw why Duke is the No. 1 overall seed, especially in the second half,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman. “It’s Duke. We knew it was coming. It’s really tough when they’re so well-coached, the length and athleticism. We talked about that to our guys the last couple of days, they’re elites and it’s hard to stop when that gets going.”
NDSU took a time out and for the first time the arena’s Duke fans were clearly heard. It was also, by far, the first time Duke used its superior athleticism to its advantage.
Statistically, the Blue Devils shot 67 percent in the first 10 minutes of the second half. NDSU was 4 of 15 for 27 percent.
Up until then, the Bison kept it close.
“We came out teed up ready to play,” said Bison forward Tyson Ward. “When we play with a whole bunch of excitement, we’re a tough team to beat.”
An early 9-0 run led by Bison guard Vinnie Shahid caught the Blue Devils’ attention. Shahid had eight of his 20 points in the first five minutes, an unexpected early spurt that showed the Bison weren’t intimidated by the Duke mystique.
“It was just playing basketball,” Ward said.
NDSU, in fact, led after the first two media timeouts — 12-5 with 15:03 remaining and 14-11 with 13:15 left. The anticipated blowout, Duke was a 27½-point favorite, was anything but.
“I thought we started out taking jump shots and not working the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “Once you get behind, there’s a confidence level of the other team and the pressure of the game.”
Duke, however, came back with eight straight and that propelled the Blue Devils to a 31-27 halftime. The Bison can look back at 2-of-14 showing from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes as a wasted opportunity. Normally a good 3-point shooting team, they finished 8 of 29 from beyond the arc.
Duke also possessed defensive length that the Bison rarely see in their mid-major schedule. That became clearly evident in the second half.
“It felt like we were excited to play, we’ve all grown up watching the tournament for many years,” Barrett said. “We didn’t have as much energy, weren’t playing as well in the beginning. Thankfully we were able to pick it up.”
Krzyzewski called it “beautiful basketball” with the Duke starters in the second half.
“Just that we were winning, it was a beautiful thing,” he said. “We got a double-digit lead, we’re hungry and we want more. To me that’s beautiful. It’s not one play. You’re not going to win this with one play.”
Barrett led Duke with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Williamson finished with 25 points, hitting 12 of 16 field goals.
After Shahid’s 20, backup guard Jordan Horn was the only other Bison in double figures with 11 points. No other Bison scored more than six.
Say all you want about the Blue Devils and their scorers, their defense is also lethal.
NDSU gave it a shot, and at times its best shot.
“We talked about three things,” Richman said. “Do the necessary, do the possible and you will achieve the impossible. … It just never felt like we were going to get beat until they got going and things got out of hand in the second half.”
NDSU (19-16): Griesel 1-4 2-2 4, Kreuser 1-7 0-0 2, Shahid 7-14 3-3 20, Samuelson 0-2 0-0 0, Ward 3-5 0-0 6, Geu 1-5 4-4 6, Eady 2-3 0-0 4, Hunter 0-3 3-5 3, Quayle 0-2 0-0 , Horn 4-9 0-0 11, Knotek 0-1 0-0 0, Cook 2-3 0-0 6. Totals 21-58 12-14 62.
Duke (30-5): Williamson 12-16 0-2 25, Reddish 3-9 4-4 12, Barrett 9-18 6-9 26, DeLauier 1-2 0-0 2, Jones 2-5 1-2 5, Bolden 1-3 0-0 3, Goldwire 1-2 0-0 3, O’Connell 3-7 0-0 7, Baker 1-2 0-0 3, Vrankovic 0-1 0-0 0, Robinson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-65 11-17 85.
Halftime: Duke 31, NDSU 27. Total fouls: NDSU 17, Duke 14. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: NDSU 34 (Kreuser 7); Duke 38 (Barrett 14). 3-point goals: NDSU 8-29 (Kreuser 0-4, Shahid 3-7, Samuelson 0-1, Ward 0-2, Geu 0-2, Hunter 0-2, Horn 3-6, Knotek 0-1, Cook 2-3); Duke 8-19 (Williamson 1-2, Reddish 2-6, Barrett 2-4, Jones 0-2, Goldwire 1-2, O’Connell 1-2, Baker 1-1). Assists: NDSU 7 (Ward 3); Duke 14 (Jones 4). Turnovers: NDSU 13 (Shahid, Ward 5); Duke 6 (six with 1).