PITTSBURGH—Trevon Duval has weathered hurricanes this season. 

The freshman floor general and former top point-guard recruit looked nothing like it for much of the year, plagued by turnovers, ill-timed mistakes and awful shooting stretches. Retweeting his own dunk minutes after losing to North Carolina didn't exactly make him a fan favorite, either.

But when it counted, things finally came together. 

Duval shook off an ankle injury he suffered in one of his worst performances of the season his last time out, igniting Duke’s offense with 19 points and eight assists to push the second-seeded Blue Devils past No. 15 seed Iona 89-67. His swagger is back, he said. 

“Definitely needed that game, especially a scoring game like that, where we’re all scoring. I feel a little more comfortable and confident,” Duval said, adding that the tournament environment helped him elevate his game. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed about playing in. Having that in the back of the mind makes it different from every other game.”

The freshman didn’t score in an ACC semifinal loss to the Tar Heels, but his steady presence helped Duke (27-7) keep pace early before pulling away Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament at PPG Paints Arena. It helped take the Blue Devil offense—which had struggled to score as of late—to another level, with four players tallying 16-plus points. 

Senior captain Grayson Allen said when Duval is a threat from deep, it makes Duke’s offense much more dangerous because it takes the burden off others. 

“Marvin doesn’t have to do as much with the ball in his hands because he can just catch from Tre and go right up or catch the ball in the post, take a dribble and make his move, and then me and Gary are spotting up and playing off of him,” Allen said. “We expect him to take the shot and knock it down just like he did today. Really, it just adds another element to our offense because all five guys have to be guarded."

On a day littered with upset scares, Duke wasn’t immune early. The Blue Devils were haunted by the ghosts of Lehigh past, finding themselves in a 19-19 tie early after their defense failed to show. Even a career Duval shooting effort from deep, with three triples in the first eight minutes, wasn’t enough to stop the fiery Gaels from staying in it with a barrage of triples and transition buckets. 

But Duval’s driving layup and finish just more than halfway through the first half sparked the Blue Devils’ decisive 17-3 run in just more than four minutes. Duval had a hand in nearly half of the buckets during that stretch, helping ignite Marvin Bagley III, who was held in check in the early going by 6-foot-7 Gaels forward Roland Griffin.

With Duval feeding him, Bagley quickly made adjustments and took over for Duke, scoring 12 points in the final 11-plus minutes of the first and finishing with 22 to lead all scorers. From there, the Blue Devils' elite offense took over.

Duke let Iona dictate the tempo on offense in the early going, allowing the Gaels to stay in the game despite the Blue Devils’ hot early shooting. Iona picked up eight fast break points in the first seven minutes, helping neutralize Duval’s hot shooting. After an 11-3 run, mostly fueled by transition layups, the Gaels were tied with Duke at 19. 

The Blue Devils had been ice cold from deep in their last five games, but caught fire by making nine first-half triples, including three apiece from Duval and Allen. 

While its offense exploded, Duke’s zone defense held Iona scoreless for more than four minutes midway through the first half. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils sustained that momentum in the second half, never letting Iona get closer than a 16-point deficit while shifting to a 3-2 zone. The adjustment stifled Iona’s outside shooters, who went 1-of-15 from deep in the final 20 minutes after getting abundant open looks in the first half. 

“We just were more active and talking a lot more and started getting hands on balls, and it led to our offense,” Bagley said. “We started to go on our run, so we really were more active and we got it done.”

On the offensive end, Duke continued to torch the Gaels from deep, finishing 13-of-30 from 3-point land, while it ate them alive in the paint.

Duval took more of a passive role in the second half, allowing Gary Trent Jr. and Allen to make most of the shots on the perimeter. Allen finished with 16 points and four 3-pointers, and Trent shook off a recent dry spell to score 16 points as well. 

Inside the arc, Blue Devils owned the edge in points in the paint 46-30 and won the rebounding battle against an undersized Iona frontcourt that ranked amongst the worst in the country in rebounding. 

The Blue Devils will take on No. 7 seed Rhode Island Saturday. The Rams knocked off No. 10 seed Oklahoma Thursday in overtime despite 28 points from superstar Sooner guard Trae Young.

After downing an experienced Iona team, Duke will take on another battle-tested team in Rhode Island, coached by Danny Hurley, younger brother of former Blue Devil great Bobby Hurley. Duke beat the Rams 75-65 early in the 2016-17 season. 

“They were a tough-minded group. And that's what Danny has built there. They can put four guards out there, too. They can handle and shoot and they value the ball and play defense. So, we'll have to beat a really good team to advance,” Krzyzewski said. “Everybody in the tournament is good, but they are experienced good.”