Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski admitted his team may have underestimated its last opponent in a close victory over the weekend. With stiffer competition around the corner, he hopes the Blue Devils have learned their lesson.
The 10th-ranked Blue Devils look to bounce back from an uneven performance as they meet Southern Illinois in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Duke (3-0) didn’t face much resistance in its first two games, blowing out Presbyterian by 31 points in its season opener before routing Georgia Southern by 43 last Tuesday to win the Durham regional of the tournament.
The Blue Devils, though, had their hands full on Sunday night, when they held on to an 82-79 win over Rhode Island in a non-tournament game.
“I don’t think our guys expected the level of play,” Krzyzewski said. “Don’t get me wrong. We respected Rhode Island. But they played at a really high level tonight. I thought it knocked us back.”
Though they may not have been fully prepared, the Blue Devils improved to 3-0 for the eighth straight season thanks to a strong finish. After falling behind by 12 early and trailing most of the way, Duke scored on its final seven possessions to rally for its NCAA-best 62nd straight nonconference victory at home.
Sophomore forward Kyle Singler made two free throws with 19.4 seconds left to finish with 21 points, then stopped Rhode Island’s top scorer on the other end to seal the victory.
“It was one of those February games in November,” Krzyzewski said. “The last 5 minutes, I thought we did everything right.”
Krzyzewski’s team could need more than five minutes of strong play to stay undefeated through the end of this tournament. Southern Illinois (2-0) has fared well early, and the winner of this game will go on to face the winner of Thursday’s game between undefeated Michigan and No. 4 UCLA.
The Salukis won the Carbondale regional of this tournament with an 80-73 victory over Massachusetts on Wednesday night. They trailed by 11 at halftime before outscoring the Minutemen 52-34 in the second half.
Carlton Fay led four Southern Illinois players in double figures with 17 points, and Bryan Mullins added 16, a school record-tying 13 assists and four steals.
The victory earned the Salukis a chance to play in Madison Square Garden for the first time since losing to Duke 78-54 on Feb. 8, 1968. They had won their four previous games there, all during their run toward the 1967 NIT title.
“Madison Square Garden is a basketball mecca,” Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery told the team’s official Web site. “It’s the best basketball arena in the world, and for our guys to be able to experience that and to have a first-round matchup against Duke is terrific.
“We’re looking forward to it, but it’s not a vacation for us. We have to go at it like a business trip.”
This is the first meeting between Duke and Southern Illinois since the then-No. 3 seed Blue Devils ousted the 14th-seeded Salukis from the first round of the NCAA tournament in 1993. Duke won that game 105-70 to improve to 2-1 in the all-time series.