Thursday, March 17, 2016

Plumlee carries Duke to win in NCAA Tournament opener

Marshall Plumlee's 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting helped Duke advance to second round of NCAA Tournament, surviving upset bid from UNC Wilmington. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

PROVIDENCE, RI -- Marshall Plumlee scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half as Duke became the first team to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, digging in to post a 93-85 victory over 13th-seeded UNC Wilmington in a West Regional first-round game at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

"Marshall was spectacular in the second half," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said as the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (24-10) also got 23 points and 10 rebounds from Grayson Allen, and 20 points and nine boards from freshman Brandon Ingram. "We knew going against them that they were going to press us the whole game, try to wear us out, and we had to be strong with the ball."

Plumlee took his coach's advice to heart, using his experience and body to foul out seven-foot center C.J. Gettys early in the second half, with Gettys' backup Devontae Cacok committing his fifth foul shortly thereafter. With both of UNCW's big men out of the game, the senior exploited the lane at will, getting several easy dunk opportunities as Duke took advantage of not just the mismatch in the paint, but also the aggressive and foul-prone nature of their opponent down the stretch.

"Give Duke credit," said UNCW head coach Kevin Keatts after his Seahawks (25-8) led at halftime on the strength of 52 percent shooting from the floor, but were unable to withstand the attrition of the second half. "They made some runs that I thought was the difference in the game. I felt like they got a few 50-50 balls that we didn't. They broke the press on a couple of miscues, and Plumlee was able to get some easy baskets in the second half."

Despite Duke's physicality wearing down the aggression of UNCW, the Seahawks made it interesting in the waning moments of the second half, coming within two possessions before a controversial blocking foul was called against Dylan Sherwood when it appeared he had drawn a charge against freshman point guard Derryck Thornton, who converted a layup, but missed the ensuing free throw. Down 90-82 at this juncture, Denzel Ingram, who scored 17 points in the losing effort, buried a three-pointer to bring the Seahawks within five. UNCW had a chance to draw closer after Allen traveled with a minute to go, but could not convert on their next possession, and the Blue Devils iced the game at the free throw line.

On the afternoon, Duke enjoyed a 43-19 disparity in free throw attempts in a game where the Blue Devils drew 33 personal fouls despite committing only 18 of their own. Most fans will attribute this to Duke getting the benefit of the doubt on most calls, but the fact remains that their opponent has committed the second-most fouls in the nation during the season, something their coach conceded to after the game.

"We play an aggressive style of basketball," said Keatts, "and certainly, you're going to get some of those calls against you. I know we're all big-time competitors and we all hate to lose, but the effort that these guys have given me all year long is unbelievable. From the time that I took the job to where this program is now, I couldn't be more of a happier coach."

With the win, Duke advances to the second round in the West Regional, where they will await either Baylor or Yale on Saturday. Tipoff is still to be determined.

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