Although Duke was playing about 600 miles from Durham, the Blue Devils found a temporary home Saturday night — the four foot radius around the basket.
The Blue Devils absolutely dominated around the rim, outscoring MSU 42-26 in the paint. Off of 14 MSU turnovers, Duke scored eight points in transition.
Duke, a team that entered the game scoring 80 points per game, finished with 81 points. Amazingly, the Blue Devils made just two threes in the entire game.
All night long, MSU’s offense was used to ignite Duke’s. When the Spartans didn’t succumb to Duke’s defensive pressure, it was a bad shot that sent the Blue Devils on the break.
The Spartans became a very solid defensive team as the year went on, specifically on its way to the Final Four. With a chance to go to the title game, Duke broke MSU down.
Freshman center Jahlil Okafor played exactly like the future top NBA draft pick that he’ll be. He spun around Spartan defenders, knocked down 15 foot jumpers, and even ran the floor to score on the break. When the ball was in his hands, it was like he was holding an orange.
He started out slow, but after returning to the game at the 10:50 mark in the first half, he was unstoppable.
“We threw some different defensive looks at him,” Dawson said. “With a guy like that, he’s going to score the ball no matter what.”
Sophomore forward Gavin Schilling and junior forward Matt Costello found themselves in foul trouble against the talented freshman, and as a result, redshirt junior Colby Wollenman entered the game. It was future doctor versus future number one pick.
“I tried to treat it like it was another game,” Wollenman said. “Come out there and work as hard as I can, make it tough for him. It’s always fun to play against guys like that, guys who are good players.”
Izzo took the blame for Okafor’s explosion. The game plan was to hold him under 20 points and limit Duke’s threes. MSU did just that but as the Spartans kept the perimeter on lockdown, Duke countered by attacking the basket and drawing fouls. Okafor did his damage but it wasn’t the deciding factor, Izzo said.
“That's not what beat us,” Izzo said. “What beat us is the free throws and the turnovers.”
The Spartans have been haunted by the free throw line all year long, and against Duke, 27 makes from the line led to MSU’s demise. In the second half, every time MSU tried to get a charge going, Duke got to the rim to answer.
Right out of the break, freshman forward Justise Winslow finished at the tin. Later in the half, when it looked like the Spartans were on their way home, MSU junior guard Denzel Valentine scored five straight points. Duke freshman guard Tyus Jones emphatically responded with a strong drive to the hoop, drawing a foul before staring into the Blue Devil student faithful.
"I don't think we had our best games all around," Trice said. "But like (Valentine said earlier), they capitalized on our mistakes. Anytime we made one, they made us pay for it."
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