BOSTON - This is the way the season ends.

Not with a bang but a whimper.

No. 2 Duke's year came to a slow and protracted conclusion at the hands of third-seeded Villanova Thursday night in a 77-54 loss at TD Banknorth Garden in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils shot a season-worst 26.7 percent from the field, including an abhorrent 9-of-35 in the second half, as the Wildcats outscored them by 20 points in the game's second 20 minutes.

"Overall, when it boils down to it, we beat ourselves," sophomore Kyle Singler said. "When you don't see the ball go in for a long time, you start forcing stuff. That's what happened, and that's not how we played all year."

The game's storyline was as transparent as the frustration on the Duke players' faces as the clock ticked down on the team's season. The Blue Devils' failure to make shots snowballed into lapses in all phases of the game, as their inability to find an offensive rhythm caused them to panic and take unnecessary risks defensively.

The result was a Villanova layup line and parade to the charity stripe in a second-half suffocation every bit as impressive as the Wildcats' victory over UCLA last weekend.

"[The panic] came primarily from our frustration on offense. Nothing came easy," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "When we did have an open shot, I felt like we put a lot of game pressure on ourselves when we shouldn't have."

The Blue Devils (30-7) considered themselves lucky to be down only three at intermission despite shooting just 7-of-25 in the first half. The game, however, got quickly out of hand in the opening moments of the second period. Following a Singler layup to pull Duke within one, Villanova went on a textbook 12-1 run in which six different Wildcats scored.

Five of the six Villanova baskets were inside the paint, a scene that became all-too familiar to Blue Devil defenders. In the game, the Wildcats scored 44 points in the paint and another 19 from the foul line.

Villanova (29-7) hit only 4-of-18 from beyond the arc and made a single mid-range jumper in the contest.

"The second half, we really got it," Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said. "We got our motion going, got people moving, we got the ball moving and we really made some great plays and extra passes."

Once Villanova built that double-digit lead, the Blue Devils admittedly panicked. Their full-court press resulted in more fouls than turnovers, putting the Wildcats into the bonus with just under 13 minutes to play. Villanova converted by hitting 13-of-17 free throws down the stretch, preventing Duke from shooting its way back into the game.

The way the Blue Devils were performing offensively, though, that was never really a concern. Junior captains Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer combined to shoot an unimaginable 4-of-32 from the field. Henderson, Duke's leading scorer coming into the game, had just seven points-his lowest output since he scored only two at Purdue Dec. 2.

"We didn't hit the shots we normally do. We didn't do the things we normally do," Scheyer said matter-of-factly.

The Blue Devils' frustration seemed to peak during the lone stretch of the second half where a comeback looked plausible. Duke had several chances to slice the Wildcats lead to single digits around the 10-minute mark, but Singler missed the front end of a one-and-one, two 3-pointers rattled off an unkind rim and Elliot Williams committed a crucial turnover-one of 11 on the night for the Blue Devils.

Villanova, which appeared to leave the door ajar for Duke with a shaky finish to the first half, seized the chance to put the nail in the coffin late. The Wildcats' defensive versatility-a trademark of the Blue Devils' defense all season-stifled Duke at every turn, and the Villanova offense buried the Blue Devils for good at the foul line and with a Scottie Reynolds exclamation-point trifecta for a 17-point lead with under six minutes to play.

"We faced a team that was probably one of the worst teams you could face, for us, because they can defend in all five positions and do a lot of the things we do," Krzyzewski said.

"I'm disappointed for them, not in them," the coach said of his team. "We just didn't play well tonight."

And that's what leaves Duke feeling so hollow.


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