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Duke defense stalls MSU

CHARLOTTE — In many ways, the Blue Devils faced a reflection of themselves Sunday afternoon.

Both Duke and Mississippi State are teams in major conferences with dominant low post presences. Both teams have plenty of sharpshooters from the perimeter. And like the Blue Devils, the Bulldogs rely on a “big three” of their own—long-distance threats Winsome Frazier and Shane Power and bulldozing power forward Lawrence Roberts—to do most of the scoring.

But Duke’s “big three” outplayed Mississippi State’s “big three” Sunday. Roberts got his points and rebounds, muscling his way to his 20th double-double of the season. But unfortunately for Frazier and Power, Duke’s guards prevented Mississippi State from hitting long-range shots, propelling the Blue Devils into their eighth consecutive Sweet 16.

“The biggest thing for us was limiting Power’s and Frazier’s threes,” senior Daniel Ewing said. “Neither one made a three-point field goal in the first half, and that was a big key for us.”

Friday night against Stanford it was Frazier who shot the Bulldogs into their second-round matchup with a 6-for-8 performance from beyond the arc. Sunday, however, he shot the Bulldogs out of the tournament with a 2-for-8 showing against Duke. Power didn’t fare much better, freeing himself for just one three-point shot, which he missed.

Meanwhile, Duke’s backcourt duo of Ewing and J.J. Redick came up with answers to every Mississippi State charge. When Gary Ervin gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the second half, it was Redick who sank foul shots just seconds later to put Duke back on top. When Mississippi State responded with a layup, Redick drilled a long-range three to keep the Bulldogs at bay.

Perhaps Redick’s mere presence had a greater impact on the game than his play. Despite just 2-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc, Mississippi State put constant pressure on the sharpshooter.

“That’s a good thing, because you’re playing four-on-four,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Sometimes when J.J. is being guarded like that, there’s so much attention that it opens up opportunities for other people.”

The main beneficiary of that attention was Redick’s backcourt mate Ewing, who led all scorers with 22 points. With 8:20 left in the game, he snapped a 45-45 tie with a three-pointer for a lead Duke would not relinquish. Then, with just 1:01 left in the game and Mississippi State down just two points, Duke’s quiet leader nailed a short jumper to extend his career by at least one more game.

“Our senior was the best player on the court tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “He was sensational.”

After a mini-slump during the ACC season, Ewing appears to have new life as a playmaker. In the NCAA Tournament, Ewing is averaging 17 points in two games, and, perhaps more impressively, is shooting 6-for-11 from three-point range, replenishing Duke’s perimeter punch during Redick’s recent shooting woes. Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury singled out Ewing as the player that caused the most damage in his team’s loss.

“I’m a senior, so I just have to go out and give it my all,” Ewing said. “I’m trying to win because I don’t want it to end right now. I feel like we have a lot of basketball left to play.”

Next up for Ewing and the Blue Devils is Michigan State, a team he torched for a season-high 29 points in an 81-74 victory Nov. 30. With similar performances, Ewing and the rest of Duke’s “big three” could play themselves into a second consecutive Final Four.

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