UCF come within inches of upsetting Duke Blue Devils

The Duke Blue Devils were national title favorites. However, on Sunday, they came inches away from not even making it out of the 2019 NCAA tournament’s opening weekend.

Duke held on to beat UCF by a single point, 77-76, after two UCF attempts in the final five seconds rolled agonizingly off the rim.

Meanwhile, R.J. Barrett was the game-winner for the Blue Devils with a put-back off a Zion Williamson missed free throw with 11 seconds remaining.

Williamson was at the line to potentially tie the game after scoring over 7-foot-6 UCF center Tacko Fall with the Blue Devils down three. It was Fall’s fifth foul, and Williamson’s 31st and 32nd points.

Although, UCF had erased an eight-point halftime deficit, and had taken a four-point lead late. Additionally, the underdog got a stop, and had a chance to extend the advantage to six with under two minutes remaining, but flubbed an alley-oop in transition.

That the Knights were even in the game was thanks to a father-son duo. UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins, a Coach K disciple, drew up a masterful gameplan. His son, Aubrey, scored 32 points, and had the Blue Devils on the ropes.

But Duke’s big three made three big plays. Cam Reddish hit a 3 to cut UCF’s 74-70 lead to one after that turnover in transition. Williamson used every bit of his superhuman strength on the and-one. And Barrett picked up his roommate by rebounding his miss and winning the game.

However, the Knights might have shown how to beat the Blue Devils. Dawkins’ gameplan was extreme – borderline revolutionary. It might turn out to be a blueprint.

But that won’t be any consolation to UCF. It won’t stem inescapable thoughts of what could have been – what, if one of two layups had been an ounce lighter off the glass, would have made the Knights the biggest story of March.

Additionally, Mike Krzyzewski and Johnny Dawkins know each other well. UCF’s head man played four years under Coach K at Duke, then spent a decade on K’s staff as an assistant. And their battle on Sunday was just as fascinating as Tacko vs. Zion.

K made the first major adjustment. He went to a zone press late in the first half to get UCF uncomfortable. And it worked to perfection. Therefore, it helped force three UCF turnovers and propel a 10-0 Blue Devil run. Duke went to the locker room with a 44-36 lead, and seemingly with the game in hand.

Both Williamson and Fall had sizable impacts on the game. Fall was awesome, and with him on the court, UCF outscored Duke by 15. His foul trouble, however, limited him to 25 minutes – and in the other 15, Duke outscored the Fall-less Knights by 16.

Twice, he denied Williamson at the rim – perhaps with fouls that went uncalled.

Williamson, deterred by Fall’s size, stepped out to the 3-point line and hit a few first-half triples. He was 3-of-7 from deep on the evening.

And with Fall on the bench, he attacked the rim, punctuating that 10-0 Duke runs at the end of the first half with two highlight-reel finishes and a brilliant pass.

Duke Blue Devils play Virginia Tech on Saturday in the Sweet 16 stage.



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