First Look: Duke v. Michigan State

The Blue Devils get a second chance to make a first (and final) impression on the Michigan State Spartans in the National Semifinal in Indianapolis on Saturday night as the teams compete for a spot in the NCAA Championship game.

Rewind back to November and the fourth annual Champions Classic. Duke and Michigan State both entered the game with questions surrounding their rosters and the general direction of their seasons.

The Spartans entered the game somewhat shorthanded as sophomore guard Alvin Ellis was sidelined with an ankle injury, but that didn’t stop the Spartans from pushing the Blue Devils for most of the game. Michigan State trailed throughout, but closed the gap to 51-48 before the Blue Devils responded with a 13-3 spurt to put the game away.

Many came away from that first big test of the season impressed with Jahlil Okafor, but the decisive run was keyed by Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, and Quinn Cook. That’s a theme that developed and solidified as the season progressed with Duke…teams would focus heavily on stopping the eventual ACC Player of the Year, and that attention would allow the second wave of high major talents to determine the outcome.

As for Michigan State, the Spartans got a combined 33 points from starting backcourt players Branden Dawson and Travis Trice, but it wasn’t enough to ever put the outcome in doubt. And yet, there were signs that this team could compete - and beat - teams who may have more talented rosters.

Looking back, the Blue Devils were beaten badly on the glass as Michigan State out-rebounded Duke 35-25. It resulted in an 11-3 advantage in second chance points. The Spartans also shot 50 percent from the field against Duke, hitting 30 of their 60 field goal attempts.

The Blue Devils countered by winning the turnover battle (forcing 13 and giving up just eight), and converting those 13 MSU turnovers into 24 points. Duke also shot 54 percent from the field and 7-of-14 on 3-pointers.

Since that time Coach Izzo’s group has been tested repeatedly, and they lost their fair share of games (11 so far). But when the calendar flipped to March, the team was tested enough to fight through a brutal draw that required wins over 10th-seeded Georgia, second seed Virginia, third seed Oklahoma, and fourth seeded Louisville.

“We got here the hard way,” Izzo told the media on Monday. “We earned our way here. I’m not going to apologize for that in any way, shape or form.”


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