Duke basketball uses first half surge to punch Final Four ticket

Duke basketball forward Paolo Banchero and guard Trevor Keels (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball forward Paolo Banchero and guard Trevor Keels (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Duke basketball program is headed back to the Final Four! 

For the first time since 2015, the Duke basketball program is headed to the Final Four!

The Blue Devils toppled Arkansas, 78-69, in the Elite Eight on Saturday night in San Francisco to punch their ticket to New Orleans.

Duke used a strong push at the end of the first half to secure a 12-point halftime advantage behind a 7-0 run to close the frame.

Paolo Banchero hit the first Blue Devil 3-pointer of the game to push the Duke lead to seven, 40-33.

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After a timeout, Mark Williams was able to keep a play alive with a back tip and a layup while an ill-advised shot by Chris Lykes allowed Duke one more possession. And Trevor Keels drilled a triple at the halftime buzzer to put the Blue Devils up 12, 45-33.

The momentum, which was already with the Blue Devils, was now heavily shifted towards Duke, but Arkansas would have another run left for the five-time National Champions.

Duke basketball pushed to the limit in second half

The start of the second half was sloppy for the Blue Devils.

Duke did not come out of the locker room with the same intensity that it went into halftime with, and Arkansas cut the 12-point lead to five, 53-48, with 13:20 left in the second half.

Mike Krzyzewski called timeout to recalibrate his team. It was all Duke from that point on.

The Blue Devils went on a 10-0 run after the timeout and all but sealed their berth to the Final Four.

AJ Griffin led the team with 19 points on the evening while Paolo Banchero was named the Most Outstanding Player of the West Regional with 16 points, seven rebounds, and three assists.

Mark Williams posted 12 points and 12 rebounds on 6-of-6 shooting, and despite only registering three blocked shots, he altered several others around the rim.

Duke will face either North Carolina or St. Peter’s in the Final Four next Saturday evening in New Orleans.

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