CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Sports Network) – Nolan Smith finished with a game-high 24 points as Duke held off a late Michigan surge, topping the Wolverines, 73-71, to reach the Sweet 16.
“Nolan is so explosive and so good off the dribble,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He has that one-on-one ability. You can play great team defense and he was so good.”
Kyle Singler scored 13 with eight rebounds for the West Region’s top-seeded Blue Devils (32-4), who will face Arizona in the next round. Ryan Kelly and Kyrie Irving both finished with 11 points for the victors.
“They just played great,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who recorded his 900th career victory, said of his team. “We were able to make a couple plays, one offensively and one defensively to win. And I’m proud of our guys.”
Darius Morris paced eighth-seeded Michigan (21-14) with 16 points and six assists. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 15 points while Evan Smotrycz scored 13 before fouling out late in the game.
Zack Novak and Jordan Morgan scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, in the loss.
Today’s game featured an interesting side story, as players involved in the most storied meeting, the 1992 national championship game, have been caught up in controversy over questionable comments made by former Michigan player Jalen Rose in a recent documentary.
The comments brought on a public response from Duke’s Grant Hill, but the topic was a side note to a heated battle on the court. Duke, the defending national champion, breezed through its opening round matchup with Hampton but had a tougher time against the Wolverines.
The Blue Devils were sitting with a 66-54 lead after Smith made a pair from the foul line and added a layup with just over seven minutes remaining.
However, after Morris made a jumper and Smith added another pair from the line, Morgan’s layup with 6:08 remaining started a string of six Michigan points to keep the game close.
Kelly ended the Wolverines’ spurt with a tip-in around 3 1/2 minutes remaining, but Hardaway gave the Blue Devils a scare by canning a pair of jumpers and drilling a three-pointer with 88 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game, 70-69.
Andre Dawkins missed a three, but the rebound was knocked out of bounds by Michigan. Irving then connected on a jumper to give Duke a 72-69 lead.
After a Michigan timeout, Morris’ layup put the game at 72-71 and, forced to foul, the Wolverines sent Smith to the line. After he made the first and missed the second, Morris missed a potential game-tying runner in the lane.
Smith came up big with the defensive board, and the Blue Devils ran out the clock to secure a trip to the Sweet 16.
“Just step up and make the free throws. You know, I made the first and the first is always the hardest one. Missed the second one, but I think at the time, one was good enough to seal the game,” Smith said, explaining his mindset just before the closing free throws.
The opening minutes of the game were a display of inconsistent ball control. The Blue Devils committed four turnovers and Michigan had three, as Duke held an 8-4 edge 5 1/2 minutes in.
Singler gave Duke some breathing room with a layup at 14:40. The basket started a 7-2 run that he capped with a three-pointer with 12 1/2 left, giving the Blue Devils a 13-6 lead.
Novak halted the run with a three-pointer, and a Hardaway layup near the halfway point made it a one-possession game, 13-11. After Irving made a pair from the line and Dawkins canned a three-ball, the Blue Devils had an 18-11 edge, but another trifecta by Novak kept it close.
Smotrycz’s three-pointer tied the game at 26 just under six minutes remaining, but a pair of Irving free throws and a Smith three gave Duke a five-point edge.
Hardaway made a pair from the line with 47 seconds left in the half, and the second of two Irving shots from the stripe gave Duke a 37-33 lead at the break.
Duke opened the second half on a 15-6 run, with Dawkins’ three giving the Blue Devils a 52-39 edge. Their lead reached 58-43 a little later after Singler connected on a driving layup and free throw, but nine straight Wolverines points kept the underdogs in striking distance.
Morgan’s dunk put the game at 58-52 with just under nine minutes remaining, and Smith’s free throws and layup gave Duke a 66-54 edge with just over seven minutes left.
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