Duke finds its defense in tough win
Duke basketball got back to its hardcore roots and lived to play in the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.
A Blue Devils team known more for sharp-shooting and efficient offense turned to defense when it topped Creighton 66-50 at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center in a foul-plagued game Sunday night.
“It was just so difficult,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It was the best defense we played all year.”
The reward for that defense — holding Creighton to a season-low scoring output while the Bluejays shot just 30 percent — is a Friday night date with Michigan State in the Midwest Regional semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (9:45 p.m., WRAL).
Coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans (27-8) are known as a tough-minded squad. So Sunday night’s game, which ended around midnight, certainly prepped the Blue Devils (29-5).
“We beat an outstanding team,” Krzyzewski said. “My kids played really hard and well together. I’m really proud of them.”
Creighton entered the game with a 50.6 field-goal percentage this season, good for No. 2 in Division I. The Bluejays fell 20 percentage points short.
Creighton shot just 2-of-19 (10.5) from three-point range, well below its season average of 42.2 percent.
Doug McDermott, Creighton’s junior All-American, entered the game ranked second nationally in scoring at 23.2 points per game. He scored 21 points but did so on a poor 4-of-16 shooting night. He scored 12 points at the free-throw line.
“I mean, I think our team just came together on a different level than we have in a while,” Duke senior guard Seth Curry said. “Guys were playing great defense, communicating on the defensive end and things like that. It took all however many guys played, eight, nine, whatever it was, to pull off this win.”
A 47 percent shooting team themselves this season, the Blue Devils had to show versatility to eliminate Creighton. Duke shot just 38.8 percent Sunday night, its worst shooting night in a winning performance this season.
Curry, one of the nation’s top perimeter shooters this season, made only 5 of 15 shots and was 2-of-9 on 3-pointers while scoring 17 points.
Senior forward Ryan Kelly’s shooting slump stretched into its fourth game, as he scored just one point. Kelly missed all five of his field-goal attempts, including his lone 3-pointer.
But Kelly, despite picking up three fouls in the first half, helped slow down McDermott. Duke also got a boost from reserve forwards Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson, who were forced into extended playing time because of foul trouble by Kelly and Mason Plumlee.
“Overall, the guys coming off the bench, Josh and Amile, they used their physicality and just made defensive plays,” Kelly said.
Sophomore point guard Quinn Cook said the Blue Devils had to draw their energy from defense, which is a different look for this team.
“The biggest thing was defense coming in, because they are an explosive offense,” Cook said. “We knew the offense was going to come from us from how we shut them down. It was validated for us when we got good offensive possessions a couple of times because of our defense.”
At a time of the year when teams often get sent home from the NCAA Tournament if their main method of success goes awry, this kind of win felt very good for Duke.
“I thought we played a tremendous game as a team,” said freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, who led Duke with 21 points. “It took each and every one of us who played to get this win.”