PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Duke turned to a couple of big men to handle VCU's pressure defense, and Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski couldn't be prouder.
Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, the two biggest players in No. 5 Duke's rotation at 6-foot-10 and 6-11, became the valves to make sure things didn't get to be too much for the guards in facing the Rams' "havoc" defense.
"These guys played with so much poise, two turnovers total between them," Krzyzewski said. "I am most proud of how they handled players who were quicker and again, they showed that poise."
Plumlee had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Duke to a 67-58 victory over the Rams on Friday night In the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Plumlee, who had 20 points and 17 rebounds in the opening-round win over Minnesota, brought the ball across midcourt several times in each half. Kelly inbounded the ball whenever VCU scored, the only time they set up the fullcourt pressure.
"I felt I was holding my own," Kelly said.
"More than that," Krzyzewski added.
Both teams played good defense and made it tough to score. Both teams combined for four field goals over the final 8 minutes and half of those came in the final 17 seconds.
"They're really good, not good, really good," Krzyzewski said about VCU. "They play tough defense full court and in the halfcourt. They have a lot of pieces. We were strong with the ball. There were no possessions off for any team."
The Blue Devils (5-0) will meet the winner of the game between No. 2 Louisville and No. 13 Missouri in the championship game on Saturday night.
All five Duke starters scored at least nine points and they accounted for all but three of the Blue Devils' total. On Thursday the starters accounted for all but two points.
Seth Curry had 15 points for Duke and was 9 of 10 from the free throw line, where the Blue Devils finished 24 for 27.
The Rams (3-2), who beat No. 19 Memphis 78-65 in the first round, hurt themselves at the line, going 12 for 19. The seven misses all came in a row from the 7:55 mark until there was 2:23 remaining. Two of the misses were the front end of 1-and-1s.
"We had the guys we wanted at the free throw line, our best free throw shooters," Rams coach Shaka Smart said. "This game wasn't lost with missed free throws. We weren't disciplined enough with our pressure.
"Plumlee and Kelly were good breaking the pressure. They came back and handled the ball. Give Duke credit for preparing for the pressure and executing."
Juvonte Reddic had 16 points and 13 rebounds for VCU while Treveon Graham scored 16 points. The Rams finished 4 for 18 from 3-point range, just better than Duke's 3-for-15 effort from beyond the arc.
Both Reddic and Graham said it was a physical game.
"We knew that coming in that it was going to be that type of game," Reddic said.
Duke held a 44-32 lead with 15:45 remaining but Graham and Reddic combined for 14 points to get the Rams within 54-50 with 9:20 to play.
Both teams struggled to score the rest of the way but Duke closed the game by making all eight free throws and adding Plumlee's power dunk with 17 seconds to play.