INDIANAPOLIS— No matter how many times Michigan State's guards slapped the floor, they couldn't stop Seth Curry.
The senior scored 29 points, hitting 6-of-9 3-pointers, to lead No. 2 seed Duke to the Elite Eight in a 71-61 win against No. 3 seed Michigan State.
"Seth was at a different level than anybody on the court offensively,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “To get 29 points in a game like this against an outstanding team is just an incredible performance."
The two storied programs battled to a near draw in the first half. Both teams overcame their weaknesses, more or less matching each other turnover for turnover and rebound for rebound.
But Curry made three consecutive 3-pointers early in the second half to help Duke (30-5) extend its lead against the No. 3 seed Spartans (27-9), a lead they would not relinquish.
“[Curry] just made shots,” Michigan State guard Keith Appling said. “The plays that they ran for him were just right, and he came up hard and just knocked the shots down.”
The Blue Devils didn’t succumb to their rebounding deficiencies, finishing the first 20 minutes of play only down one board, despite five boards apiece for Spartan big men Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. Duke got a big lift in the first half from their guards, who combined for six rebounds and who on multiple occasions boxed out the bigger Spartan players.
“[We rebounded well] because we did it by committee,” Plumlee said. “Our guards did a good job of getting down in there and coming up with loose balls and rebounds that were getting bounced around.”
Michigan State—which generally struggles with turnovers—had no such issues in the first half, actually leading the turnover margin by one. Despite Tyler Thornton’s pesky defense, starting guards Appling and Gary Harris had only one turnover each. Conversely, Quinn Cook was bedeviled by the Spartan guards, coughing up the rock three times in the half. Coming into the game, Cook averaged just a shade over two turnovers per game.
Thornton—who set a physical tone for Duke early with a flagrant foul—played for the majority of the second half in the place of Cook, who went 0-for-5 from the field.
“Thornton played a great game,” Krzyzewski said. “His toughness, defense, and he handled the team really well.”
Around the midway point of the second half Duke managed to gain some momentum when the Spartans were called for three offensive fouls in a two-minute stretch. During that span the Blue Devils mounted a nine-point advantage.
While the Spartans battled physically, they couldn’t counterpunch with buckets of their own, going a span of 14:40 in the second half with just one field goal.
Despite the team's shooting woes, Payne and Appling kept the Spartans competitive through the entire second half. Both players had their moments defensively and offensively—particularly Payne. The 6-foot-10 forward scored all 14 of his points after the under-four media timeout in the first half. Half of his points came from the foul line, where he went 7-for-7. He also grabbed nine rebounds and rejected two shots.
“We beat an outstanding team today,” Krzyzewski said. “It took a heck of an effort.”
While Payne was intimidating Duke players on that side of the court, Ryan Kelly ignited the Blue Devil run that ultimately gave them control of the game. Despite going a fifth consecutive game without hitting a 3-pointer, Kelly managed to change the game with a three-point play with 9:14 remaining. Kelly took a feed from Thornton and drew contact from Payne, sinking the shot and the ensuing free throw.
On the ensuing defensive possession, Kelly blocked Nix’s shot from inside, leading to a transition layup by Rasheed Sulaimon to extend Duke’s lead to 10—the largest the lead had been all game.
“We made some tough plays, and that gave us a … that little bit of difference to win the ball game,” Krzyzewski said.
Although Kelly struggled offensively—making just 4-of-14 field goals for nine points—he grabbed seven boards and blocked four shots. Mason Plumlee matched that rebounding total and scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting while battling foul trouble.
“That’s game planning,” Kelly said of the shot blocking. “We have guys that can block shots.”
The Spartans made a late push offensively as Appling and sophomore Travis Trice were able to get the Michigan State offense going, but it was too little too late for head coach Tom Izzo’s club. The Blue Devils withstood Michigan State’s physical play and converted their free throws in crunch time to end the Spartan’s title dreams.
“I’m glad it’s not a seven-game series because I’m not sure we would continue to [match the Spartan’s physicality],” Krzyzewski said. “But we were able to do it tonight.”
Sulaimon's free-throw shooting was especially on point as the freshman hit 12-of-14 from the line.
“Every time when I felt nervous at the free throw line in a crucial time, I heard Coach K in the background saying, ‘You got it kid,’” Sulaimon said.
The Blue Devils will now meet top-seeded Louisville Sunday in a rematch of the Battle 4 Atlantis championship that Duke won 76-71.
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