Duke survives UNCW scare with second half push

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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.

Coach Kevin Keatts, right, joins Chris Flemmings, center and Craig Ponder in Thursday's post game interview. Photo courtesy- UNCW Sports
Coach Kevin Keatts, right, joins Chris Flemmings, center and Craig Ponder in Thursday’s post game interview. Photo courtesy- UNCW Sports

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.