HOUSTON, TEXAS - The jump shot that went in for Nolan Smith right before the halftime buzzer sounded, giving Duke a 24-23 lead, was a sigh of relief, the junior point guard said.
"Nolan got a bucket to put us up one," Kyle Singler said. "I thought it was a big boost even though it might not have felt like it. But being up one at the half and just knowing that we have 20 more minutes to play was, you know, a big boost for our team."
From that shot on, Duke never trailed.
From that shot on, Smith hit 6-of-8 from the field to finish with 15 points.
From that shot on, the Blue Devils closed out the game shooting 59 percent (16-of-27) from the field, improving their shooting by 38 percentage points after going 6 for their first 28.
From that shot on, Duke built on its one point halftime lead, outscoring Purdue 46-34 in the second half to pull off the 70-57 victory to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2004.
That shot gave Duke control of momentum for the rest of the game.
"This game, first half, they came at us strong," Smith said. "We weren't playing our game in the first half. Having veterans, having guys that were there last year really helped us come out and turn it around."
"It was the complete opposite of what happened last year [against Villanova]," Brian Zoubek, who finished with a game-high 14 rebounds, said. "We fell apart at halftime last year, and we responded at halftime this year. I think that says a lot about this team."
It says a lot about the poise of this year's squad, which features the perfect blend of veteran leadership and young talent, as they held off a talented and feisty Purdue squad thanks to a masterful second half.
"Our execution in the second half was terrific," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Singler, Smith and Jon Scheyer all scored a bucket during a 7-0 Duke run that began with under 13:00 remaining to break open a tie ball game.
Smith followed with his very own 7-0 run that included a three pointer from directly in front of the Duke bench.
"Jon kicks it back to me and there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to shoot it," Smith said. "Those huge three's that go take the air out of a team."
"Nolan's spurt there was probably the biggest spurt of the game," Krzyzewski said.
Purdue would never threaten Duke's lead again.
If Smith helped to springboard Duke ahead in the second half, then it was Singler's hot-hand from the three-point line that fueled Duke in the first half. The Medford, Ore. native, connected on three 3's in the first half to score 11 of Duke's 24 first half points.
"He [Singler] was really strong, and we learned from his example in the first half, and we all tried to just follow him," Zoubek said.
Singler would finish with a game-high 24 points and eight rebounds continuing his impressive play during the Blue Devils stretch run.
During Duke's current seven game win streak, Singler is averaging 21.9 points and 7.1 rebounds, while shooting 48.6 percent (18-of-37) from three-point range. He has five 20 point games in that span.
Singler is also averaging 21.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament this season, while shooting 50.0 percent (20-of-40) from the field.
Enough also can't be said about Duke's effort on the defensive end Friday night.
Duke held its fourth postseason opponent to under 60 points and is holding its last six opponents to 55.8 points per game.
The Boilermakers were pressured all night by Duke's defense, as the Blue Devils put a hand in the face of the Boilermakers outside shooters and limited second shot opportunities, leading to a 48-27 rebounding edge for Duke.
"I have to really commend the two big guys, Miles [Plumlee] and Brian," Krzyzewski said. "They had 21 rebounds for one position tonight. That's a lot of rebounds. They were never in the game at the same time I don't think. No, they weren't. They were never in at the same time. To get 21 rebounds from that position was just such a key factor in the ballgame."
Purdue finished the game shooting 20-of-54 (.370) from the field which include a stretch in the first half where they missed 10 field goal attempts in a row, going over six minutes without a made basket.
"We really take pride in our defense, getting stops and locking up the other team's best players and using that to our advantage," Smith said.