After a brief scare in the first half from 16-seed North Dakota State, Duke cruised to the second round by overwhelming the Bison in the second half, led by the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Zion Williamson.
On Sunday, Duke faced a unique test in 8-seed UCF, where Williamson’s incredible athleticism would be countered by UCF’s 7’6 center Tacko Fall. It was an intriguing matchup on paper in that UCF’s strength was size and defending the rim, while Duke is the tournament’s worst three-point shooting team.
The result was a thriller that saw the top overall seed get a serious test from the Knights, led by Aubrey Dawkins, who was absolutely on fire from the field, hitting 12-of-18 field goal attempts including 5-of-7 from three-point range for 32 points — plus a thunderous alley-oop dunk.
After Dawkins kept them in it to start the second half, it was B.J. Taylor who picked it up from distance with a pair of threes to continue to apply pressure to Duke.
All the while, it was Zion who led the charge for the Blue Devils. He had 32 points and 11 boards on 12-of-24 shots from the field and 3-of-7 from three-point range, helping to provide an answer whenever UCF would pull ahead, and lift Duke to one of their best shooting nights of the season from deep at 10-of-25.
With Duke down three late, it was Zion who went right at Tacko, and after Fall winning early battles, it was Williamson who made an and-1 layup to go to the line with a chance to tie. Williamson’s free throw fell short, but with Fall fouled out R.J. Barrett was able to muscle (or push, if you’re a UCF fan) his way to a rebound and putback to put the Blue Devils up a point.
UCF got a pair great looks at the basket on the final possession with a chance to take down Duke, but both of them rimmed out cruelly as the Blue Devils advance to the Sweet 16.