Perfect start to March Madness for Duke

Just hours after Gardner-Webb put a scare into Virginia in the same building, No. 1 overall seed Duke found itself in a fight with No. 16 North Dakota State.

The final score of Duke’s victory against North Dakota State does not suggest as much, but there was a juncture in the teams’ East Region game Friday night when the outcome was theoretically in doubt. The No. 1 overall seed Blue Devils led by only 4 points at halftime.

Duke ended up trampling the No. 16 Bison by 85-62, after leading by as many as 31, because of a sequence early in the second half in which Williamson unleashed the breadth of his singular repertory. He made a shot while being fouled; missed the free throw but grabbed the ball and dunked it; rebounded a wayward North Dakota shot and started a possession that ended in a Duke 3-pointer, and then stole the ball, ran it down and dropped it in the basket. All within 58 seconds.

It was 40-27 then, and it was over because of Williamson. The Blue Devils’ bulldozer. Williamson finished with 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting, and another Duke freshman, R.J. Barrett, added 26.

“Before that even happened, my teammates were in my ear,” said Williamson, who relished playing in Columbia, S.C., about 95 miles from his hometown, Spartanburg. “They were just like, ‘be me,’ like, ‘be myself.’ When they’re constantly telling you to be yourself, it just gives you energy, and I just try to bring energy for my team.”

Mike Krzyzewski talks endlessly about energy to describe what was missing or going wrong during stretches of poor play and also why the team has been able to have success on the court. Every basketball coach in the country wants their team to play with energy, but when that spark hits Duke’s roster the chain reaction is unstoppable.

By showcasing its powers of devastation, Duke evaded the upsets that pervaded what was a more appealing second day of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Bolden returned to the Duke lineup Friday night for the Blue Devils’ NCAA tournament opener at Colonial Life Arena, playing 17 minutes in a comfortable win.

But it was clear he was just happy to be back.

“It was kind of tough because I had played every game this season,” Bolden said. “For me to get hurt, it was just something that hadn’t happened this year, but it’s happened in past years, so I just tried to stay positive myself and my teammates stepped up.”

The minor surprises — in the South, No. 10 Iowa beat No. 7 Cincinnati, 79-72, and No. 9 Oklahoma bludgeoned No. 8 Mississippi, 95-72, while No. 9 Washington whipped No. 8 Utah State, 78-61, in the Midwest — paled against the wins that had the capacity to upset the bracket.

In dispatching No. 4 Kansas State by 70-64 in the South, No. 13 University of California, Irvine preceded victories by No. 12 Oregon, which walloped No. 5 Wisconsin by 72-54 in the same region, and by No. 12 Liberty, which stunned No. 5 Mississippi State by 80-76 in the East.

The Blue Devils continue their quest for the NCAA Championship tomorrow night against UCF Knights.



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