Duke knocks off No. 1 seed Houston to set up all-ACC Elite Eight in South Region

DALLAS — It will be an all-ACC affair in the South Regional for a spot in the Final Four.

Duke, the No. 4 seed, knocked off top-seeded Houston at American Airlines Center 54-51 on Friday in a game that was marred by an injury to Big 12 player of the year Jamal Shead.

Duke advances to the Elite Eight where it will face conference rival NC State, a team it has already played twice this month. 

Though Duke is no stranger to deep NCAA men’s tournament runs, this is a breakthrough win for the program’s current iteration under 36-year old coach Jon Scheyer, who replaced the legendary Mike Krzyzewski before last season.

While Duke has done plenty of winning in two years under Scheyer, it had not lived up to the sky-high expectations that were set when he landed the nation’s top recruiting class right out of the gate and added another crop of five-star prospects in his second year. 

That narrative now changes to some degree with this win over Houston: A tough, physical, senior-laden team that went 32-5 overall this season and 15-3 in the Big 12, which was widely considered the nation’s deepest conference.

But the nature of the victory is unlikely to silence all Duke skeptics — and will surely leave Houston wondering what might have been. 

With 6:53 remaining in a first half that Houston was seemingly controlling with its pressure defense, Shead badly turned his right ankle on a drive to the rim and went to the locker room almost immediately. Though X-rays were negative, the sprain was severe enough that he couldn’t return, completely changing the complexion of the game. 

Without one of the nation’s most explosive and disruptive players on the floor, Duke had more room to operate offensively and managed to get enough quality looks in the mid-range and from behind the 3-point line to unlock the high skill level of its future NBA Draft picks. 

Kyle Filipowski, Duke’s highly-regarded sophomore 7-footer, became the game’s dominant player in Shead’s absence, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-14 shots including a trio of 3-pointers. Jeremy Roach, the Blue Devils’ senior point guard, also came to life with 14 points and several clutch jumpers in the second half. 

Still, it was not easy for Duke to put away the biggest victory of Scheyer’s career. 

Houston managed to keep the Blue Devils within range for the entire second half, pulling within 50-48 with 4:23 remaining. 

But down the stretch, Duke’s defense kept Houston at bay — barely.

A pair of steals by sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor on back-to-back possessions followed by Roach’s mid-range jumper with 1:13 left gave Duke a 54-48 lead, but that still didn’t put the game away. 

Emanuel Sharp’s 3-point play on a driving layup with 48.7 seconds left broke Houston’s near four-minute scoring drought, and the Cougars got the ball back with a chance to tie inside the final 20 seconds after Filipowski’s jumper rattled in-and-out. After a timeout by coach Kelvin Sampson, Houston missed on a drive to the rim but got one more crack when the rebound was tapped out of bounds by Duke. 

Houston’s last shot went to Sharp, who came up short on a straightaway three to tie,.

Both teams made 20-of-49 field goals, but Duke’s 3-point shooting (6-of-17) was the difference in a game where Houston made just 2-of-8.

After playing a completely unfamiliar opponent in Houston, Duke now moves on to face a team it knows all too well.

The Blue Devils beat NC State 79-64 on March 4 at Cameron Indoor Stadium but lost to the Wolfpack 10 days later in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, 74-69. That was one of five wins in five days that NC State needed to secure the ACC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, where its magical run has continued.

NC State, the No. 11 seed, is seeing its first Final Four appearance since it won the championship in 1983. Duke has been to the Final Four 13 times with five national titles since then. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Duke defeats Houston to reach Elite Eight against ACC foe NC State

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