Duke has been a name synonymous with NCAA tournament excellence and because of that tradition they are also the college hoops squad who America loves to hate. The team who in recent years has given their detractors two HUGE reasons to rejoice.
Lehigh and Mercer will forever go down in Duke lore as the Davids who defeated college basketball’s Goliath. The two unknown squads who did the impossible and Nae Nae’d right into our hearts during the process.
Coach K will tell you that he doesn’t like to bring up what’s been done in the past. Senior Team Captain Quinn Cook, who was on both of teams that lost to Lehigh and Mercer, will say that he did think about those unceremonious NCAA tournament exits heading into Friday’s game against Robert Morris, but I don’t believe it. Those two defeats and the feelings of disappointment and embarrassment that come with them are things that stick with you. They fuel you. They’re valuable lessons and humbling experiences. So, whether they admit it or not, the Duke basketball team entered into the 2015 NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed with something to prove and it showed.
In Friday’s game against Robert Morris, the Blue Devils were intense on defensive and efficient on offense – shooting 63% from the field, including hitting 10 of 21 shots from behind the arc, while holding the Colonials a 36% field goal percentage.
I thought our defense was excellent tonight, Coach K said in the post-game press conference. And we obviously shared the ball really well. To have 28 assists in a game is fantastic. Our bench, especially Marshall and Amile gave us a huge boost. They were real veterans in this game and Quinn had another outstanding game. We feel good about our performance.
But it wasn’t all Blue Devils Friday night in Charlotte, Robert Morris tested them when they went on a second half run to cut a 17-point half-time lead to ten, but Duke passed with flying colors – responding with a 12-0 run of their own to push the lead back to an insurmountable 68-46.
So, the Blue Devils advance in convincing fashion. They not only had to win, but they needed a win like this to get and maintain their confidence heading into a tough match-up Sunday against San Diego State.
Is this another one of Mike Krzyzewski’s Final Four squads that will make Duke haters around the nation cringe? Only time will tell. But they definitely made a statement that they are different from teams who were eliminated from the Tourney as a result of huge 1st-round upsets, and even though they’ll never say it, I’m sure the memory of preventing another embarrassing defeat was firmly etched in the back of their minds…they certainly played like it was.
Charlotte 3rd Round Notes:
* Blue Devils center Jahlil Okafor had 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and added three rebounds and two blocks.
* Quinn Cook (22 points), Marshall Plumlee (10) and Amile Jefferson (10) joined Okafor in double figures for Duke.
* Duke dominated the glass, outrebounding Robert Morris by a 40-28 margin. The Colonials had 12 offensive rebounds.
* Neither team was particularly turnover prone, as they combined for just 19 total (eight for Robert Morris, 11 for Duke).
* Rodney Pryor had a game-high 23 points for Robert Morris. He and teammate Marcquise Reed combined for 45 points on 19-of-41 shooting. The rest of the team was just 5-of-25.
Robert Morris finishes the season with a 20-15 record.
* Duke’s ACC counterpart Virginia, defeated Belmont and will face Michigan State on Sunday.
* Malcolm Brogdon paced the Cavaliers with 22 points, shooting 4-of-9 from 3-point range and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. Brogdon also contributed five rebounds and an assist.
* The Cavaliers improved to 25-18 all-time in the NCAA Tournament