IN A SOUTH REGIONAL BURSTING WITH JUICY STORY LINES, Duke's narrative looked like a big yawner. Cinderella St. Mary's was riding the skills of loquacious center Omar Samhan, gutty Purdue was charging on without injured star Robbie Hummel, and Baylor had been reborn after a murder and an NCAA scandal. Now those were plot lines. Duke's attempting to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2004? B-O-R-I-N-G.
But the top-seeded Blue Devils delivered some noteworthy drama, beginning with their Sweet 16 matchup against Purdue, the No. 4 seed. The Boilermakers set the pace early on, and it looked as if Duke might repeat its exit from a season earlier when it lost to fast-starting Villanova in the Sweet 16. "We were having flashbacks," center Brian Zoubek said later. "You don't want it to happen again."
But the Blue Devils showed a physical side they had lacked in '09 and pulled away 70-57. Kyle Singler's 24 points and 18 from Jon Scheyer were key, but the tone set by Zoubek, including a screen on Purdue's Chris Kramer that briefly knocked the guard from the game, was the difference. Zoubek grabbed 14 rebounds, and Duke dominated on the glass 48-27.
"[Our response] was completely the opposite of last year," Zoubek said. "Instead of falling apart, we came together."
The Blue Devils united again in the final minutes against third-seeded Baylor, which on paper appeared to be too athletic in the backcourt and too deep and long on the front line for them to handle. The score was tied 12 times, the last with 3:36 left on a free throw by Nolan Smith. Smith missed his second free throw, but forward Lance Thomas battled for the rebound and then fed the ball back to Smith, who sank a shot from beyond the arc.
Scheyer followed with his fifth three-pointer of the game, giving Duke a six-point edge.
"Those were big-time plays," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "The big guys kicked it out, and those are the best threes to take."
Smith scored 29 and Scheyer 20, offsetting an 0-for-10 day from Singler, although the swingman effectively held Baylor sharpshooter LaceDarius Dunn to 2 of 8 treys.
"The three of us just want to pick each other up," Scheyer said. "If we have a couple of off shooting nights, [we] make up for it in other ways."
When the game ended with the Blue Devils in front 78-71, seniors Thomas, Scheyer and Zoubek shared a silent moment of acknowledgment. "We looked at each other for probably a good 10 seconds," Thomas said.