Duke tops Creighton 66-50, advances to round of 16

PHILADELPHIA — Let upsets take down the other heavy favorites. Duke is back to business as usual.

Rasheed Sulaimon scored 21 points, Seth Curry had 17 and No. 2 seed Duke held off seventh-seeded Creighton 66-50 on Sunday night to advance to the round of 16 for the fourth time in five years.

A year after they lost their NCAA tournament opener, the Blue Devils (29-5) are back in the regional semifinals for the 27th time. They’ll play No. 3 seed Michigan State (27-8) on Friday in Indianapolis.

Mason Plumlee, Josh Hairston and Ryan Kelly battled foul trouble all game long that could have doomed the Blue Devils.

Instead, they’re moving on to Indy.

“It was just so difficult,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It was the best defense we played all year.”

Florida Gulf Coast beat San Diego State 81-71 in the opener in Philadelphia that had the crowd of more than 20,000 buzzing after the upset win.

Duke’s victory could not match it in excitement or intensity.

But that’s OK for the Blue Devils. They’re not in it for style points. They’re here to win Krzyzewski’s fifth national championship.

Still, the Blue Devils haven’t advanced past the round of 16 since Krzyzewksi won his fourth national championship in 2010. They lost last year to Lehigh and spent their first three days in Philadelphia still having to answer for that one. Yes, even after they beat Albany in the second round.

Creighton (28-8) went cold and never made a serious run in the second half. Doug McDermott scored 21 points but made only four baskets.

With McDermott slumping, the Bluejays were knocked out in the third round by an ACC team for the second straight season.

“They did a great job on me, realy physical, switched on every screen making it frustrating,” McDermott said. “I missed a lot of shots I usually make, so that was unfortunate.

Foul trouble hounded the Blue Devils from the opening tip. Plumlee hit the bench after he was whistled for his fourth foul early in the second half.

Hairston picked up his fourth foul at the 15:21 mark, allowing Ethan Wragge to convert a three-point play that inched the Bluejays closer.

Curry came right back with a 3-pointer and followed with a layup to make it 39-30. Plumlee and Kelly, each with four fouls, returned to the game as Krzyzewski clearly wanted his best players in there to try and put away Creighton.

“Seth got a couple of big ones for us,” Krzyzewski said.

The usually sure-shooting Bluejays never found their groove.

Gregory Echenique had no chance on a wayward alley-oop lob that knocked off the backboard, and he fumbled the ball the next time down. Amile Jefferson scored off the second turnover for an 11-point lead. Hundreds of Duke fans stood in appreciation, and the program’s 2,000th career win was in the bag.

Hairston was called for his fifth foul at the midway point of the second half, leaving the Blue Devils without a key frontcourt reserve. Plumlee fouled out with just under 3 minutes left.

But the Bluejays clanged brick after brick. The missed 17 of 19 3-pointers and shot only 30 percent from the field. McDermott, their All-American, was 4 of 16 and 12 of 12 from the free throw line.

McDermott gamely did his best to keep the Bluejays afloat by getting to the line. He hit two with 7:29 left to cut it to nine but went more than 18 minutes without a field goal. Without his 3-point shooting keeping Duke’s defense honest — Krzyzewksi called him one of the best offensive players he’s seen in the last decade — the Bluejays were sunk.

“It was a tough way to go out,” McDermott said. “It’s hard letting the seniors down tonight. It doesn’t take away from the last two years.”

Curry’s second 3-pointer pushed it back to 11 and Sulaimon followed with another 3 to wrap it up.

Plumlee finished with 10 points and the Blue Devils made 21 of 28 free throws.

Tyler Thornton banked in a running 3 at the buzzer to send Duke into halftime with a 29-23 lead. The Bluejays missed 12 of their first 15 shots, then missed 10 of 13 to open the second half. They lost in the third round to North Carolina last year and talked all season about wanting to get back to this point. They would go no farther. The Bluejays haven’t advanced to a regional semifinal since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Krzyzewksi again celebrated a big win in Philadelphia, though with far less drama. The Blue Devils topped Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional final on Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beater in perhaps the greatest game and shot in the tournament’s 75-year history.

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