Survive and advance. The Duke Blue Devils took the phrase to a whole new level on Sunday afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina. The No. 1 overall seed survived against ninth seeded UCF, who were led by Aubrey Dawkins and 7’6 center Tacko Fall. Dawkins played the game of his life with 32 points while Fall added 15 points for the Knights.
The two teams went back and forth all game with the Knights holding a four point advantage in the final minute. Cam Reddish hit a big three for Duke to cut the lead to one. The Knights would hit two free throws to extend the lead to three, but Zion Williamson went straight at Tacko Fall and finished while drawing the foul to have a chance to tie the game. The foul was Fall’s fifth. Williamson would miss the free throw, but RJ Barrett corralled the offensive rebound and layed it in to give the Blue Devils the lead with eight seconds left. BJ Taylor got a good look, but the shot rolled out. Dawkins was there to tip it in… until the ball rolled out, and the Blue Devils survived and advanced to the Sweet 16 where they will face Virginia Tech.
There is no argument this was the game of the tournament. The pre-tournament favorites struggled to find an answer to Tacko Fall and Aubrey Dawkins, but there is someone who is going to get lost in the conversation as people look back on this game. UCF Head Coach Johnny Dawkins may have had one of the greatest game plans I have seen. Tacko Fall would stay under the basket leaving Tre Jones or Jordan Goldwire all alone on the perimeter giving up a possible three pointer. Problem was, Goldwire and Jones were a combined 2-11 from the three point line.
This also made life hard for Williamson and Barrett because they could not get in the lane without Fall waiting at the basket for them. This made life difficult, but Williamson continued to make play after play to keep the Blue Devils in it. Props to UCF. They gave everything they had, but sometimes the ball doesn’t fall your way.
Moving on, the Blue Devils will face Virginia Tech in Washington D.C. for the Sweet 16 matchup. The Hokies pulled off a 77-72 upset in Blacksburg. Duke was without Zion Williamson in the matchup. Sunday’s game may be exactly what the Blue Devils need, and truthfully, there will be no more of a matchup problem then there was on Sunday afternoon. No team has another 7’6 center who can deny Zion Williamson at the rim. Yes, they survived a scare on Sunday, but it may be exactly what the Blue Devils need to make a National Championship run.