Blue Devils survive Central Florida's upset bid in final second
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Duke is still playing in the NCAA Tournament.
That much is clear among the blur the Blue Devils went through in the final seconds of Sunday’s classic with Central Florida.
“An immediate sense of relief and joy,” Duke forward Javin DeLaurier said after the 77-76 decision in the East Region’s second-round game. “That ball could have easily bounced the other way.”
So the Blue Devils could exhale, a season hanging in the balance on a runner by Central Florida’s B.J. Taylor and a subsequent tip from Aubrey Dawkins, with the ball rolling away.
“I thought the ball was up there forever,” Duke forward Cam Reddish said.
Or, from the other perspective.
“It just didn’t go, caught it on the rim,” Dawkins said. “I mean, heartbreak. That’s the only way to sum it up.”
Those were just the final details of a harrowing and hero-filled last two minutes for Duke, which is the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.
“None of us were thinking our season could come to an end,” guard Tre Jones said. “We were thinking about the plays we needed to make.”
Quite a few were needed at Colonial Life Arena.
At the offensive end, the critical plays came following Javin DeLaurier’s offensive rebound off Zion Williamson’s missed 3-pointer as Duke trailed 76-73. The ball was returned to Williamson, who drove for a basket and was fouled at the 14.4-second mark.
He missed the free throw, but RJ Barrett grabbed the offensive rebound and scored what turned out to be the winning points.
The Golden Knights moved the ball upcourt and called timeout with 8.1 seconds remaining.
Central Florida coach Johnny Dawkins, a legendary player for Duke, said the last sequence appeared good for his team.
“I thought (the tip) was going to go,” he said. “I thought he got a good look at it at the end. I thought B.J.’s shot was very close to going also. … (The putback) just kind of hung there. It’s a fine line … and you have a different outcome.”
Ninth-seeded Central Florida was up 74-70 with the ball with less than two minutes to play before a turnover.
Duke responded with Reddish’s 3-pointer.
“I’ve (taken) that shot so many times,” Reddish said. “It was just getting open a little bit. Once I got it, I trusted all the work I put in this season, all my life, really.”
Taylor made two free throws with 45.2 seconds to play. Those were Central Florida’s final points.
Through all this, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had a message for his team.
“You guys were made for these two minutes and just be yourselves,” he said.
Williamson notched 32 points, Barrett finished with 16, Reddish had 13 and Jones posted 11 for Duke (31-5), which meets Virginia Tech in Friday night’s Sweet 16 game in Washington.
Aubrey Dawkins, the coach’s son, poured in 32 points for the Golden Knights (24-9), while Taylor and Tacko Fall both had 15.
Fall, a 7-foot-6 center, was called for his fourth foul with the game at 57-57. He fouled out on Williamson’s final scoring move.