Senior guard Craig Ponder led four UNCW players in double figures with 22 points, including 13 in the second half, but fourth-seeded Duke used a strong second-half shooting performance to defeat the 13th-seeded Seahawks 93-85 in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship at Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island on Thursday afternoon.
The Blue Devils, who improved to 24-10 on the season, advance to the second round on Saturday against the winner of the Baylor-Yale game. Meanwhile, the Seahawks’ season comes to a close with a 25-8 record.
Graduate student forward Marshall Plumlee and sophomore guard Greyson Allen each netted 23 points to lead Duke, which shot 68.2 percent from the field after the intermission to rally from a 43-40 deficit. Freshman Brandon Ingram also chipped in 20 points and nine rebounds for the Blue Devils.
With Duke trailing by three at halftime, a lay-in and two free throws by Ingram sparked a 14-3 run for the Blue Devils. Plumlee followed a miss by Ingram then hit two foul shots, and Ingram’s lob to Plumlee gave the Blue Devils a 61-49 lead with about 14 minutes left.
The Seahawks got mired in foul trouble – they picked up their 10th midway through the half – and that was a lot to overcome.
Still, after Plumlee picked up his fourth foul with just over six minutes to go, Ponder rallied the Seahawks. He hit a 3-pointer – UNCW’s first made trey in 10 tries in the half – then had a steal and layup. A three-point play by Bryce narrowed the deficit to 78-73 with 4:42 left, but Plumlee’s offensive rebound and slam put Duke back up by seven.
UNCW shot 51.5 percent in the first half, including 6 of 12 from beyond the arc, while hounding the Blue Devils into mistakes with its press.
Ponder, who played the final game of his college career, made 8 of 14 shots from the floor, including a 3-for-6 performance from long range, while adding four rebounds and four assists. Junior guard Chris Flemmings added 18 points, while classmate Denzel Ingram added a 17-point effort, including a 5-for-10 showing from beyond the arc.
Freshman guard C.J. Bryce led UNCW with eight rebounds and chipped in 16 points. He made six of eight field goal attempts and was 4-for-7 from the free throw line.
The last time the Seahawks faced a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament was in 2002, and they upset Southern California 93-89 in overtime for their only tournament victory. UNCW is 2-38 all-time against teams in the ACC.