The odds were long for Duke to repeat as national champion this season after losing a key contributor in Amile Jefferson to injury back in December.
But that didn’t stop the shorthanded Blue Devils from playing their hearts out in the ACC regular season and in a postseason run that ended Thursday night in a Sweet 16 clash with top-seeded Oregon.
The Ducks simply had too much depth and too many scoring options for Duke to overcome and the Blue Devils, at times, seemed to lack the energy to take advantage of the opportunities it did find in a 82-68 loss. Months of playing with a seven-man rotation finally caught up with the Blue Devils.
[All out of miracles, Texas A&M succumbs to old rival Oklahoma]
The victory put the Ducks in the Elite Eight against Oklahoma on Saturday. It’s the first time since 2007 the Ducks have advanced to play in a regional final.
The victory validates Oregon’s selection as a No. 1 seed when the tournament bracket was announced and also further helps redeem the Pac-12 conference, which put seven teams in the NCAA tournament but only one advanced to the second week of action.
Duke hasn’t been great defensively all season and its depth problem has contributed to that deficiency. Oregon also played with a seven-man rotation on Thursday, but the Ducks clearly had more energy. Sophomore Dillon Brooks led the Ducks with 22 points, including a 3-pointer he shot from well beyond the arc in the final seconds and made with the shot clock running down.
Duke lived and died by the 3-pointer for much of the season and it went 7-for-22 behind the arc against Oregon. Brandon Ingram led the Blue Devils with 24 points but he needed 20 shots to get there. Sophomore Grayson Allen never really got his offensive game going and sputtered to 15 points on 4-for-13 shooting.
The Oregon-Oklahoma Elite Eight matchup promises to be fun and high scoring with both teams playing at a fast pace.
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