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The costly UCF mistake that opened the door for Duke to survive

Yahoo! Sports logo Yahoo! Sports 3/25/2019 Jeff Eisenberg

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Before Zion Williamson’s iron-willed driving layup, R.J. Barrett’s timely put-back and Aubrey Dawkins’ physics-defying missed tip-in, there was another play in Sunday’s Duke-UCF classic that changed the course of history.

It was a play that will haunt UCF players and coaches for years anytime they think of the seismic upset that slipped through their fingers. It was a play that also will be hailed as the turning point in Duke’s NCAA tournament should the top-ranked Blue Devils go on to capture the national title.

Just under two minutes remained in Duke’s 77-76 victory when UCF’s Dayon Griffin corralled the rebound of a Tre Jones’ missed 3-pointer. Burning clock would have been the prudent move with the Golden Knights ahead by four points, but Griffin saw an opportunity for a 2-on-1 fast break and couldn’t resist trying to seize it.

Griffin dribbled down the left side of the floor. Dawkins sped down the right side. Only Barrett stood between either of them and the basket. The UCF bench stood in anticipation when Griffin lobbed a pinpoint pass to Dawkins ... only to watch the senior guard fumble the ball in midair and fail to finish the alley-oop

Dawkins’ miscue might not have been that damaging had it not created a scoring opportunity for Duke at the other end of the floor. Barrett threw an outlet pass ahead to Cam Reddish, who curled around a screen and buried a right-wing 3-pointer to complete a five-point swing.

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Suddenly Duke’s deficit wasn’t six. It was one.

That it was Dawkins who failed to finish the alley-oop is especially cruel. The son of UCF coach Johnny Dawkins was the best player on the floor aside from that play, scoring 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting and keeping UCF in striking distance with big shot after big shot.

Of course, the botched alley-oop isn’t the only mistake UCF made during the final two minutes to derail its upset bid.

There was the missed boxout after a Williamson 3-point attempt rimmed out that enabled Duke’s Javin DeLaurier to corral the offensive rebound. That prevented Duke from having to foul intentionally to extend the game and paved the way for Williamson to score at the rim and draw Tacko Fall’s fifth foul.

There was the other missed boxout on Williamson’s ensuing errant free throw that resulted in Barrett’s go-ahead put-back. (And, yes, it did look like Barrett got away with a bit of a shove in Dawkins’ back on that one).

And there was UCF’s two misses on its ill-fated final possession, the first B.J. Taylor’s off-target runner and the second Dawkins’ failed tip-in that spun tantalizingly around the rim before coming out.

But while all those plays were crucial, it’s the lob that will surely sting the longest for UCF.

Instead of a dunk that would have all but sealed a bracket-shaking upset and the biggest victory in program history, the ball slipped through Dawkins’ fingers and history changed as a result.

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