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It wasn’t easy, but Duke won both of its games in Columbia, South Carolina to return to the Sweet 16 for the third time in the last four seasons.
As the No. 1 overall seed entering the NCAA Tournament, many outside observers expected head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils to cruise through their first two games in the East Regional, and then get some real tests in the Sweet 16.
But the madness of March nearly shook Duke to an early exit as North Dakota State took a lead on the Blue Devils into halftime of the first round before Duke enforced its will in the second half, and late-game heroics were necessary for a one-point win over UCF in the second round.
SLOW STARTS PLAGUING
Whether it’s the heavy reliance on freshmen by this Duke team, the deep run in the ACC tournament or the constantly shifting roster due to injuries, the Blue Devils have started slowly in the last two games. Players and coaches alike said it was the biggest issue facing the team as they attempt to navigate the dangers of the single-elimination tournament, so it will be something to watch as the team takes on Virginia Tech on Friday night in their Sweet 16 matchup.
The game tips off at approximately 9:40 p.m. on CBS.
THE ZION SHOW
Zion Williamson, nearly a unanimous National Player of the Year winner according to the few awards that have been announced thus far, has now played five games since returning from a knee sprain that forced him to miss the team’s final six regular-season games. He has been tremendous since his return to the court, averaging 27.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and nearly two steals per game.
BOLDEN STILL NOT 100 PERCENT
Bolden missed all three games in the ACC tournament with a knee sprain that he suffered in the opening minutes of the teams regular season finale at UNC, but returned to the court for Duke’s first two NCAA tournament games last weekend. While Bolden was able to contribute, he was not 100 percent according to Krzyzewski. With nearly a week to recover between last week’s games and Friday night, the team hopes Bolden will begin playing at his peak like he was before the injury.
REDDISH IS MR. CLUTCH
Like he did against Florida State and Louisville, Cam Reddish connected on a clutch 3-pointer late against UCF to give Duke a chance for the comeback win. With time running down in the final minute, UCF misfired on an alley-oop that would’ve put the game out of reach and Reddish calmly nailed a 3-pointer at the other end to cut the lead down to one. After UCF made two free throws to push the lead back out to three, Reddish’s classmates Williamson (layup and drawn foul) and RJ Barrett (putback of Williamson’s missed free throw) completed the comeback.
Playing in the late-night game so that CBS can maximize eyeballs on the biggest draw in college basketball, Duke will tipoff against Virginia Tech about 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Michigan State-LSU game on Friday night. Both games are being played at the Colonial Life Arena in Washington, D.C. with the winners facing off against each other on Sunday in the Elite Eight.
JONES IMPRESSES AT PRO DAY
Seven former Blue Devils participated in Tuesday’s Duke Football Pro Day — linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, offensive tackle Christian Harris, tight end Daniel Helm, quarterback Daniel Jones, tight end Davis Koppenhaver, wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd and wide receiver T.J. Rahming. Giles-Harris, Jones and Helm took part in the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this month and are hoping to be drafted sometime during the seven-round NFL Draft. Duke’s starting quarterback for the last three years, Jones finished a “flawless” pro day that left scouts with their “jaws dropped” according to reports of those in attendance. 31 of 32 NFL teams were represented at Duke’s indoor practice facility, with all but the Dallas Cowboys sending at least one scout to watch Jones and his teammates work out.
Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.