Duke tops Creighton, punches ticket to Sweet 16
In a city renowned for the fighting spirit of a fictional boxer, Duke slugged its way to an historic, satisfying NCAA Tournament win Sunday night.
Despite a frontcourt that spent the entire game in foul trouble and jumpers that bounced off more than falling, the No. 6 Blue Devils found enough offense to beat No. 22 Creighton 66-50 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Duke (29-5) not only claimed the 2,000th win in program history, the second-seeded Blue Devils advanced to the Midwest Regional semifinals in Indianapolis. They will play third-seeded Michigan State on Friday (9:45 p.m.,WRAL) in the Sweet 16.
“The flow of the game was different than most games you see,” Duke senior forward Ryan Kelly said. “But we made the plays, and that was the difference.”
Having posted plenty of aesthetically pleasing wins with offense this season, the Blue Devils kept their season alive despite shooting 38.8 percent. With Duke’s senior stars struggling, freshman Rasheed Sulaimon led the way with 21 points.
“For a freshman to respond and the way he did today, that’s bigtime,” Kelly said, “He’s done it before many games this season. He played great.”
They won even though Mason Plumlee, a second-team All-American center, picked up his fourth foul with 17:48 to play. Limited, he scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds before fouling out with 2:45 left.
Reserve Josh Hairston fouled out and Kelly, after picking up three fouls, played cautiously in the second half and didn’t notch his lone point until 3:03 remained.
Still, Duke persevered by limiting Creighton All-American forward Doug McDermott to 4-of-15 shooting. He didn’t make a field goal over the game’s final 24 minutes.
He did score 21 points thanks to his perfect 12-of-12 night at the free throw line. But that wasn’t close to enough for the Bluejays (28-8), who had their worst-scoring night of the season.
“Keeping their guys from getting open looks, I thought, was big,” Plumlee said.
Plumlee picked up his third and fourth fouls within the first three minutes after halftime. But with him out of the game, Duke was able to maintain the halftime lead that it never relinquished.
Kelly, playing with three fouls, zipped a slick pass to Cook under the basket for a 34-27 Duke lead with 15:37 to play.
After missing his first six 3-pointers, Curry finally hit one and added a layup off an inbounds pass for a 39-30 Duke lead with 14:11 to play.
But Duke was not out of trouble.
Hairston, Plumlee and Kelly all had four fouls, meaning 6-8 freshman Amile Jefferson had to log minutes.
Jefferson, though, came through with a basket inside with 10:26 to play to give Duke a 43-32 lead.
The Blue Devils were aided by Creighton’s sloppy play. After only turning the ball over four times in the first half, the Bluejays committed five turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
With McDermott picking up three fouls in the early minutes of the second half, Creighton also struggled to score. The Bluejays missed eight of their first 11 shots after halftime.
It didn’t get better for Creighton, which never drew closer than eight points over the game’s final seven minutes.
“We believe in our defense,” Kelly said. “When we put a full game together and we prepare well we can play great defense. I think we certainly did a pretty good job.”
Slow starts offensively for both teams led to a first half filled with fits and starts.
Creighton, a 51 percent shooting team this season, made only three of its first 16 shots. Duke, making only six of its first 16 shots, took a modest 14-7 lead when Tyler Thornton hit a 3-pointer with 11:42 to play in the half.
But Duke missed its next six shots, including three open looks by Curry. With Kelly in foul trouble, McDermott took advantage to pull the Bluejays closer.
McDermott’s basket with 6:06 to play, his sixth consecutive point for Creighton, left Duke with a 16-15 lead.
After Thornton missed a free throw, McDermott drove the lane for a layup to put Creighton on top 17-16 with 5:26 left in the half.
The Bluejays held a 21-20 lead when Sulaimon started Duke’s finishing kick to the first half.
The freshman’s 3-pointer as the shot clock neared zero put Duke up 23-21. Plumlee, playing with two fouls, still found a way to defend a Echenique shot inside that led to a miss.
Curry sank two free throws at the other end giving Duke a 25-21 lead.
McDermott’s two free throws with 1:39 were Creighton’s last points of the half and Sulaimon made one of two free throws with 41.8 seconds left giving Duke a 26-23 lead.
Creighton worked most of the shot clock, passing up a couple of open looks, before Jahenns Manigat missed a 3-pointer.
Duke rebounded the ball with five seconds left. Thornton hustled the ball up the court and fired a running 3-pointer from 21 feet. The shot banked in as buzzer sounded, giving Duke a huge lift of momentum and a 29-23 halftime lead.
Duke 66, Creighton 50
Percentages: FG .302, FT .889. 3-Point Goals: 2-19, .105 (McDermott 1-4, Chatman 1-6, Gibbs 0-1, Yates 0-1, Johnson 0-1, Dingman 0-2, Manigat 0-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 2 (Echenique 2). Turnovers: 10 (Manigat 3, McDermott 3, Gibbs 2, Echenique, Wragge). Steals: 2 (Wragge, Echenique).
Percentages: FG .388, FT .750. 3-Point Goals: 7-20, .350 (Sulaimon 3-5, Thornton 2-2, Curry 2-9, Kelly 0-1, Cook 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 4 (Kelly, Jefferson, Thornton, Mas. Plumlee). Turnovers: 9 (Curry 2, Mas. Plumlee 2, Cook 2, Hairston 2, Kelly). Steals: 7 (Curry 2, Mas. Plumlee 2, Cook, Thornton, Kelly).
A—20,125. Officials—Doug Sirmons, Ed Corbett, Darron George.