Duke’s Zion Williamson celebrates as RJ Barrett slams in two
North Dakota State hung around with No. 1 Duke for 20 minutes Friday night.
Zion Williamson decided it was time for the Blue Devils to separate from there.
Williamson scored 13 of his 25 points over the first six minutes after halftime as Duke turned a four-point game into a rout on the way to a 85-62 NCAA tournament first-round game at Colonial Life Arena.
Duke (30-5), the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, advanced to Sunday’s East Region second round to play either Central Florida or Virginia Commonwealth.
After topping out at 29 wins each of the last two years while failing to make the Final Four, the Blue Devils reached 30 wins for the first time since their 2015 national championship year.
Achieving that 30th win this year was a little tougher than expected as 16th-seeded North Dakota State (19-16) led by seven points in the game’s early minutes before Duke led 31-27 at halftime.
“We did start out very sluggish,” Williamson said. “We weren’t playing very well. But I think in the second half we calmed down, and we just started playing Duke basketball.”
But after shooting just 42.9 percent in the first half, the Blue Devils ran away from the Bison with a 16-3 to start the second half.
Williamson spearheaded the charge.
The 6-7 freshman took a pass in the lane to score Duke’s first points of the half. He missed the free throw short, but grabbed the rebound and slammed home two points.
After a Cam Reddish 3-pointer for Duke, Williamson knocked a pass away into the backcourt. He outran Bison point guard Vinnie Shahid to secure the ball, then used a behind-the-back dribble to get to the basket for a layup giving Duke a 40-27 lead with 17:56 to play.
He scored inside at 16:18 before drilling a 3-pointer with 15 minutes left putting Duke up 50-32.
Williamson’s slam dunk pushed Duke’s lead to 20 points before RJ Barrett’s two-handed reverse slam dunk on a breakaway with 13:33 left gave Duke a 54-32 lead.
Asked what his favorite part of the second half was as his Blue Devils pulled away, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he liked how his team took control and stayed ahead.
“Just that we’re winning, man,” Krzyzewski said “It’s the most beautiful thing. We’re winning, got a double-digit lead, and we’re hungry, and we want more. To me, that’s beautiful. It’s not one play. You’re not going to win this with one play, no.”
Williamson’s last basket of the game at 11:33 to play gave Duke a 63-37 lead. Krzyzewski kept him on the bench for the final 9:15 of the game.
Barrett scored 26 points with 14 rebounds for Duke. A third Duke freshman starter, Reddish, added 12 points.
The Bison made 45 percent (9 of 20) of their 3-pointers while beating N.C. Central 78-74 Wednesday night in a First Four game to advance to meet Duke. But North Dakota State struggled from the field against the Blue Devils.
The Bison shot 36.2 percent overall, making just 8 of 29 3-pointers (28 percent). Shahid lead the Bison with 20 points while Jordan Horn added 11.
Duke started sluggishly on offense, missing eight of its first 10 shots. That included misfiring on five of six 3-pointers.
North Dakota State took advantage to build an early 14-7 lead.
While Duke’s offense never found full potency in the first half, the Blue Devils shut down the Bison to forge ahead.
After leading by seven points with 14:05 to play in the first half, North Dakota State scored just two points over its next 14 possessions. The Bison missed seven of eight shots and turned the ball over six times during that stretch, including two shot-clock violations.
Duke eschewed the 3-point shot to start pounding the ball inside and, as expected, found success.
Tre Jones’ jump shot in the lane tied the score at 16 and, with 9:01 left in the half, Williamson took a pass from Barrett and gave Duke an 18-16 lead with an emphatic two-handed slam dunk.
North Dakota State’s Shahid continued to pester Duke, driving into the lane for a layup while drawing a foul from Jones. Shahid’s free throw put the Bison up 25-24 with 2:35 left in the half.
Duke scored the game’s next seven points, though, as Reddish hit two free throws, Barrett drove the baseline for a one-handed slam dunk and Jordan Goldwire drilled a 3-pointer to put the Blue Devils up 31-25.
Shahid’s driving basket left Duke up 31-27 at halftime.
Williamson and Barrett each scored 10 first-half points for Duke while Shahid led all scorers with 15.
North Dakota State shot 41.4 percent in the first half while Duke shot 42.9 percent.