Duke freshmen ready for matchup with UCF

The Associated Press

Duke's heralded freshmen embraced the NCAA Tournament in their first shot and that means they'll have at least another game.

"I think we were very excited because, especially for me," forward Zion Williamson said. "I remember watching March Madness, like live-streaming it in high school and middle school, just watching the intense games and telling myself I was going to be a part of that."

The Blue Devils (30-5), the top seed in the East Region, take on ninth-seeded Central Florida (24-8) in Sunday's second round at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C.

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UCF, which picked up its first NCAA Tournament victory in five tries on the Division I level Friday night, is coached by former Duke star Johnny Dawkins.

"I have seen them play bits and pieces," Dawkins said of the Blue Devils. "Those guys are terrific, terrific players. It's going to be a good challenge."

The current Blue Devils stars had it going in their tournament debut.

RJ Barrett and Williamson scored 26 and 25 points, respectively, in the first round Friday night against North Dakota State. Duke won that game 85-62 with a big second half.

Barrett and Williamson became the first pair of Duke freshmen to hit for 20 or more points in an NCAA Tournament game.

Granted, it took time for the Blue Devils to settle in during the first-round game.

"We've all been growing up watching the tournament for many years, and we're excited to get out there and just -- we didn't really have as much energy," Barrett said. "We weren't really playing as well at the beginning. Thankfully, we were able to pick it up."

Yet there were signs for Duke that the three-game run through the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament a week earlier had carried over to the next tournament.

"I thought our defense then picked up for the rest of the game after about 10 minutes," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "In the second half, we played just beautiful basketball for those 12 minutes."

Williamson will play a second game in his home state. He's from Spartanburg.

"It's nice to be in my home state, but ... I can't put my personal happiness before my teammates," he said. "We did start out very sluggish. We weren't playing very well. But I think in the second half we calmed down, and we just started playing Duke basketball."

Well before the current crop of Duke players became standouts, there was Dawkins.

He was among the first stars for Krzyzewski as he began building a program, becoming a two-time All-American in the mid-1980s. He's a member of the Duke Sports Hall of Fame.

Later, he spent a decade on the Duke coaching staff, ending in 2008, when he headed for a head coaching position at Stanford.

"I know Coach (Krzyzewski)," Dawkins said. "He's amazing."

The Knights built a big lead and fended off Virginia Commonwealth for a 73-58 first-round victory.

Coach Dawkins' son, Aubrey Dawkins, is a standout guard for the Knights.

Sunday's winner takes on the Virginia Tech-Liberty winner in next Friday's Sweet 16 in Washington, DC.

--Field Level Media

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