It began with rebounds.
Duke earned more second-chance points off the glass in its 78-57 national semifinal win over West Virginia.
The Blue Devils now meet the Butler Bulldogs Monday evening in the national championship game.
Duke had an only eight-point lead going into the second half, but West Virginia couldn’t close the deficit.
“Some of those offensive rebounds really turned in big plays for us,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Already playing without senior guard Darryl Bryant, West Virginia lost senior forward Da’Sean Butler more than halfway through the second half with a knee injury.
Freshman forward Devin Ebanks said the Mountaineers took it hard when Butler got hurt.
“It was very frustrating for us to have our best player go down, especially when we trying to make our run,” he said.
Before Saturday’s second semifinal game, both teams were praised for rebounding, with a .4 difference in their season averages.
But it was the winning Blue Devils who outmatched the Mountaineers off the glass, 29-27, including 17-10 in the first half.
The disparity began early in the first half, which ended with Duke grabbing seven more rebounds than West Virginia. The Mountaineers were especially beaten offensively, and they had no second-chance points in the first half.
From their seven offensive rebounds, Duke got 12 second-chance points.
The Blue Devils took advantage of their lead and relaxed in the second half. They finished with only two more rebounds more than West Virginia.
Long-range shooting also explained Duke’s early surge. The Blue Devils hit 7-of-14 three-pointers in the first half, while the Mountaineers only hit 4-of-7. Duke finished the game with 13-of-25 threes, while the Mountaineers hit only 5-of-12.
West Virginia lost its first-half shooting touch. While the Mountaineers hit 50 percent of their field goals in the first half, that number dropped to 30 percent in the second half.
Three-pointers were Duke’s specialty throughout the game, but they were West Virginia’s weakness in the second half, as the team only hit 1-of-5 in the last half. The Mountaineers finished with 41.3 percent field-goal shooting for the game.
The 21-point different was Duke’s biggest win since its first-round game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and the 78 tied their highest-scoring game in the NCAA Tournament.
“To score that many points against West Virginia is a lot,” Krzyzewski said.
The Duke coach said having two days of practice and one shoot-around allowed the team to get used to their surroundings.
“It really gives the teams time to get acclimated in a dome,” he said.
Krzyzewski had also said in Thursday’s press conference that both teams had high rebounding numbers from missing a lot of shots. That wasn’t true for Duke on Saturday.
The team shot consistently throughout the game, not having more than 5 percentage points difference of shooting between the two halves. They hit more than 52 percent of both field goals and three-pointers throughout the game.
“They played really, really well,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I watched a lot of tape, and I haven’t watched them play that well.”
Krzyzewski said he was glad to see Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer hitting from long range.
“It’s a plus, especially when all three of them are doing it,” he said.
The post-game press conference turned quickly from the win to Monday’s championship game — Duke against the Cinderella, Butler.
Krzyzewski said he did not consider the hometown team to be any sort of underdog.
“I think Cinderella would be more of somebody had eight, nine losses and pulled some upsets,” he said. “They’ve beaten Syracuse and Kansas State, and Michigan State tonight. I don’t really consider them Cinderella.”
IU Final Four News Bureau
A team of Indiana University journalists is reporting for the Final Four Student News Bureau, a project between IU’s National Sports Journalism Center and the NCAA at the men’s tournament in Indianapolis. The Review, a paying ACP member, has access to this material.