It wasn’t easy, but Duke survived its opening round game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament with a 93-85 victory over UNC Wilmington.
Duke fought past a fantastic effort from the Seahawks, who had a 43-40 lead at halftime.
The Blue Devils had their hands full with the strong defensive pressure of Kevin Keatts’ team and the dynamic scoring of Chris Flemmings, Denzel Ingram, and Craig Ponder. The Seahawks stayed in the game by hitting 11 3-pointers and shooting an impressive 42% from beyond the art, well above their season average.
Fortunately, Duke had its own dynamic players that UNC Wilmington was unable to stop. Brandon Ingram was the spark Duke needed to keep things close in the first half as he stepped up with 11 of his 20 points in the first 20 minutes, including a big 3-pointer in the final seconds before halftime to pull the Blue Devils within three and give them momentum entering the break. UNC-W simply had no answer for Ingram, who used his length and skills to make an impact on both ends of the floor and show why he could be the No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA Draft.
In the second half, it was Marshall Plumlee and Grayson Allen who keyed Duke to the victory and kept the game out of reach when UNC Wilmington would try to mount a comeback.
Plumlee, who started the game with a mask to protect his broken nose but eventually took it off, scored 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting. He was a huge weapon in making UNC Wilmington pay for its defensive pressure and lack of size, capitalizing on many lob opportunities at the rim.
Allen got off to a slow start and only shot 4-of-12 from the field, but it didn’t prevent him from attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line, where he was 15-of-17 for the day. He matched Plumlee with 23 points.
Duke should feel very good about pulling out an 8-point win over a quality opponent despite shooting just 4-of-15 from the 3-point line. Hopefully, that means the Blue Devils are in store for a big shooting performance in Saturday’s game, when they’ll face the winner of Yale vs. Baylor.
On to the next round. Go Duke!