Seth Curry felt as if he could make every shot. Even his record-setting coach was amazed.INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There were times when
Curry scored 29 points and Duke beat Michigan State 71-61 on Friday night to advance to the Midwest Regional final, putting Mike Krzyzewski on the precipice of another milestone in the NCAA tournament.
"Seth was scoring on every possession and it was almost like we felt like we could relax on defense,'' Krzyzewski said. "When you've got a guy hot like that and you can put a couple of defensive stops with it, you can get separation.''
When the Spartans (27-9) and Blue Devils (30-5) remained locked in a tight one, Krzyzewski called timeout to tell his hot-shooting guard to keep firing - and to make sure his defense kept up the pressure.
The combination worked perfectly.
Now Krzyzewski is one win away from his 12th Final Four appearance, which would tie John Wooden's record for a coach. He is tied for second with North Carolina's Dean Smith.
Next up for the second-seeded Blue Devils is Louisville (32-5), a 77-69 winner over Oregon in the night's first game, and it could be a virtual home game for the Cardinals just about 100 miles from their campus. Plus, Louisville coach Rick Pitino is trying for his seventh Final Four trip, which would tie him for fourth with Roy Williams.
But Duke beat Louisville 76-71 on Nov. 24, and with Curry shooting like this, the Blue Devils just might have the advantage.
"Seth was just at a different level than anyone else on the court offensively tonight,'' Krzyzewski said. "To get 29 points in a game like this against a good team is just incredible.''
The win comes 16 months after Duke beat Michigan State to give Krzyzewski the NCAA record for wins. And now, one year after falling to Lehigh in the second round of the tournament, Duke has reached the regional final in the same venue where it won its fourth national title - just as the son of Spartans coach Tom Izzo predicted.
Third-seeded Michigan State couldn't keep up with Curry and Duke's other shooters. Rasheed Sulaimon had 16 points for the Blue Devils, making 12 of 14 from the free-throw line, and Mason Plumlee finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in the return to his home state.
And the biggest difference was Curry.
"Curry's a fifth-year senior. He's wise. He knows how to come off things and get open,'' Izzo said after falling to 1-3 in NCAA tourney play against Krzyzewski. "I think our freshmen got a little lesson tonight.''
Curry's sixth 3-pointer of the game broke a 38-38 tie early in the second half, sending Duke on a 9-0 run. It also matched the school record for most 3s in an NCAA tourney game, most recently accomplished by Jason Williams on March 22, 2001, against UCLA.
The Blue Devils never trailed again.
"Honestly, I was just trying to help my shot. I got a few to go early,'' Curry said. "I feel like every time I take a shot it's going to go down and nothing felt different tonight.''
The Spartans were led by Keith Appling, who scored 16 points despite playing with a brace over his injured right shoulder. Adreian Payne added 14 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn't nearly enough against Curry & Co.
"They're a good team, they played well, Curry hurt us, no question about it,'' Izzo said. "We didn't quit, we hung in there. I thought we played poorly for us, but the better team won tonight.''
The game was billed as an entertaining contest between two of college basketball's most successful coaches - and it lived up to the hype.
The first half was played to a near draw with four ties and eight lead changes.
Michigan State grabbed an 18-17 lead on Derrick Nix's tip-in with 9:52 left in the first half, but Curry then scored nine points in an 11-2 run for the Blue Devils. He was fouled by Travis Trice while attempting a 3-pointer and made all three free throws to make it 28-20 with 4:59 remaining.
Back came the Spartans, who clamped down on defense and closed to 32-31 at halftime.
But Curry's early second-half scoring spree forced Michigan State to play catch-up the rest of the way. The Spartans pulled within seven with 1:32 to go, but couldn't get any closer after trailing by as much as 13 in the second half.
"We knew we would have to play at that level. They're a little more athletic than we are,'' Krzyzewski said. "We had to try to match that and tonight we were able to do that. I'm glad it's not a seven-game series because I'm not sure we'd be able to continue to do it. But tonight we were able to do it.''