The independent news organization of Duke University

Blue Devils advance to finals, Nelson injured

NEW YORK - Duke proved it can win despite adversity Wednesday night, but it was not easy.

With Shelden Williams sitting on the bench with four fouls and DeMarcus Nelson out with an injury he suffered in the first half, the Blue Devils held their ground against a persistent Drexel squad and eventually advanced to the final of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.

No. 1 Duke (4-0) hit eight free throws in the final two minutes to seal a 78-68 win that it had to fight all 40 minutes to earn.

"We just faced reality," guard Sean Dockery said. "They were playing harder than us and if we had played just one half, they would've won the game. So everybody got out of their selfish ways and came as a team [in the second half]."

Duke will face No. 11 Memphis Friday in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at 7 p.m. The Tigers defeated No. 16 UCLA, 88-80, in the other semifinal Wednesday.

All-American J.J. Redick, who scored a game-high 31 points, carried much of the offensive load for the Blue Devils throughout the game. He said he felt like he had to make plays, particularly in the second half, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski said he has come to expect such performances from his leading scorer.

The Blue Devils led just 41-40 at halftime, as the Dragons (3-1) opened the game pushing the tempo and shooting a red-hot 50 percent-including 5-for-10 from three-point range-in the opening 20 minutes.

"They outplayed us by a lot, I thought, in the first half," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

But after the break, Duke buckled down on the defensive end and held Drexel to just 32.4 percent shooting. With 15:37 remaining and Duke leading 52-46, Williams was forced to the bench with his fourth foul, and freshman Josh McRoberts stepped up. The forward made back-to-back baskets and recorded one of his three blocks, and when Williams re-entered the game at the 9:42 mark, the Blue Devils led by seven, 61-54. Duke never relinquished the lead.

Nelson suffered a hairline fracture in his right foot with 10:25 remaining in the first half. The sophomore was chasing after a loose ball and collided with a Drexel player. He was taken to the hospital for x-rays and no timetable has been set for his return.

Freshman Martynas Pocius replaced Nelson and provided a lift for the Blue Devils in the back-and-forth first half. The Lithuanian native scored seven points on 3-for-4 shooting, and following the game players said they expect Pocius to fill a bigger role in Nelson's absence.

Krzyzewski said the loss of Duke's lone active sophomore will force the team to revamp because Nelson was the Blue Devils best athlete and its "defensive stopper."

"We have a team where we have four seniors and five freshman and I don't know about being overrated, underrated or whatever, but we're not a powerhouse," Krzyzewski said. "We've got to do things right. We've got good players and they can become a really good basketball team."

 

Discussion

Share and discuss “Blue Devils advance to finals, Nelson injured” on social media.