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Duke basketball continues early-game dominance while playing with chip on its shoulder

The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC) logo The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC) 5 days ago Steve Wiseman, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.

Mar. 17—ORLANDO, Fla. — On the same Amway Center court earlier Thursday, Virginia built a 10-point, first-half lead over Furman and saw it disappear.

Then the Cavaliers led by 12 with just under 12 minutes to play, only to fritter that away, too, in what became the first moment of madness this March as the No. 13 seed Paladins upset No. 4 Virginia, 68-67.

On Thursday night, the team that beat Virginia in the ACC championship game last Saturday night, the white-hot Duke Blue Devils, took the opposite approach.

As has become its practice of late, Duke took a lead and never let it go while pounding 12th-seeded Oral Roberts, 74-51, on Thursday night.

For the third time in their past four games, the Blue Devils won a game in which they never trailed. That covers three games in the ACC tournament, and Thursday night's NCAA Tournament first-round game.

All four games were against NCAA Tournament teams, starting with a 96-69 ACC quarterfinal win over Pittsburgh. Duke also led wire to wire in whipping Virginia, 59-49, for the ACC championship.

The lone exception during these four dominant games was when Miami took a 22-20 lead over Duke in the ACC semifinals. The Blue Devils won, 85-78, having trailed for a mere 4 minutes and 32 seconds.

That's it.

"You've got to put your foot on the gas and not let people back into games because then the dynamics of the game changes," Duke graduate student guard Jacob Grandison said. "You know, you go into the half up 17 versus going into the half up nine, it's a different feeling. So, you've got to put that foot on that neck and win or go home."

It's no surprise this stretch of Duke dominance has come in tournament play, be it the ACC or the NCAA version. In a win-or-go-home situation, the Blue Devils have no intention of going home.

"I think last month we've been one of the best teams in the country," Duke freshman Mark Mitchell said. "I think tonight, we just came out here and showed that."

Duke's NCAA Tournament seed, No. 5 in the East Region, doesn't reflect that high regard, though. That's because the seed process, rightfully, takes into account the entire season.

After losing 78-75 at Virginia Tech on Jan. 23, the Blue Devils owned a 14-6 record and were just 5-4 in ACC play. They had won only once on an opponent's home court.

Since then, Duke has won 13 of 15 games. Beating Oral Roberts gave the Blue Devils a 10-game winning streak.

The seed they'll carry through the tournament really doesn't reflect the type of team they are now, but it does give the players motivation they are using to fuel this run. They love it when people look at their overall record and seed and think that renders them not worthy of high expectations in this tournament.

"Obviously, if you watch ESPN you're going to see it," Roach said, "but we try to flush that out. Like (Duke coach Jon Scheyer) said with the ACC Tournament, focus on one game. It's a new season now. We wanted to lock in on Oral Roberts, and we did a good job and made it as tough as we could for them. Now we've got to lock in on Saturday and take it one game at a time.

While Duke held the better seed against Oral Roberts (and unlike Virginia and Arizona, survived the first round on Thursday), the Blue Devils will be a lower seed when they play Tennessee on Saturday in the second round. The Volunteers were awarded the East Region's No. 4 seed.

But Tennessee, since February began, has gone 5-7. Starting point guard Zakai Zeigler is done for the season after suffering an ACL tear on Feb. 28.

Duke is playing better basketball entering Saturday's game.

Two ACC teams had their first NCAA tournament experiences of this season Thursday in the same building.

Virginia proved not strong enough to protect multiple leads. Duke scored the game's first 15 points and left no doubt about who would be advancing.

This story was originally published March 17, 2023, 6:00 AM.

(c)2023 The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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