Men's Basketball

Duke survives! RJ Barrett’s heroics push Devils past UCF in NCAA Tournament classic

While officials took an extended break to review a potential game-changing play in the second half, Colonial Life Arena sounded like a dual-sided high school gym — filled with some 18,000 fans.

“U-C-F! U-C-F! U-C-F!” chanted the black and gold supporters.

“Let’s Go Duke! Let’s Go Duke!” fired back the Blue Devil faithful.

The opening game to the last day of NCAA Tournament action in Columbia for the foreseeable future didn’t disappoint.

No. 1 seed Duke had to rally to beat ninth-seeded UCF, 77-76, and clinch a spot in the Sweet 16 for the 27th time in program history.

The sport’s blue-blood school was taken to the limit by the upstart Knights. The Blue Devils finally exhaled when Aubrey Dawkins’ tip-in attempt rimmed out before the final buzzer.

“When that ball rolled around the rim,” said Blue Devils star Zion Williamson, “it looked like it was going in, but as Coach K talks about a lot with the basketball gods, they had our back today.”

Spartanburg’s Williamson, playing in likely his final game in his home state, scored a team-high 32 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. But it was his missed free throw that led to the winning score.

Duke, which trailed by four with 2:08 left, rallied to within one with 14 seconds left after Williamson scored and drew the fifth foul on UCF’s 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall. When the three-point play wasn’t completed, R.J. Barrett was there for the put-back layup at the 11-second mark.

“I was just thinking,” Barrett said, “what can we do to win this game? I remember watching March Madness and watching a whole bunch of games and seeing missed free throws, somebody gets a rebound and a put-back. So I thought, I’m just going to try to do whatever I can to get this rebound.”

UCF was led by Dawkins’ 32 points. Fall finished with 15 and three blocks.


Duke advances to face Virginia Tech in a Sweet 16 game on March 29 in Washington, D.C., at a time to be announced. UCF’s season ends with a 24-9 record.


“They were so well prepared. That’s as high a level of any team that we’ve played against all year. They were men.” — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on UCF. The Knights are coached by Johnny Dawkins, a former Duke player and assistant coach.

Box score

DUKE 77, UCF 76

UCF (24-9)

Smith 2-6 0-1 4, Fall 7-10 1-3 15, Allen 1-4 0-0 3, Dawkins 12-19 3-3 32, Taylor 2-11 9-10 15, Brown 1-1 2-3 4, Griffin 1-3 0-0 3, Bertz 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-55 15-20 76.

DUKE (31-5)

Barrett 6-15 2-3 16, Reddish 5-8 0-0 13, DeLaurier 1-1 0-2 2, Williamson 12-24 5-7 32, Jones 5-15 0-0 11, Bolden 0-1 0-0 0, Goldwire 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 30-67 7-12 77.

Halftime: Duke 44-36. 3-Point Goals: UCF 9-19 (Dawkins 5-7, Taylor 2-7, Allen 1-2, Griffin 1-2, Bertz 0-1), Duke 10-25 (Reddish 3-4, Williamson 3-7, Barrett 2-3, Goldwire 1-3, Jones 1-8). Fouled Out: Fall. Rebounds: UCF 30 (Smith, Fall 7), Duke 35 (Williamson 12). Assists: UCF 15 (Allen 7), Duke 15 (Barrett, Jones, Williamson 4). Total Fouls: UCF 16, Duke 18.