Duke grinds out victory over Creighton

Duke's Tyler Thornton #3 celebrates with teammates Quinn

Duke's Tyler Thornton #3 celebrates with teammates Quinn Cook #2 and Rasheed Sulaimon #14 after Thornton made a shot at the buzzer at halftime against the Creighton Bluejays during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Center. (March 24, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

PHILADELPHIA -- It was a struggle, but second-seeded Duke put last year's nightmare loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh in its rearview mirror and returned to its accustomed place in the Sweet 16 with a 66-50 victory over Creighton Sunday night at Wells Fargo Center.

The Blue Devils advanced to the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis, where they will meet Michigan State.

Freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon led the way with 21 points, and Duke (29-5) also got 17 from Seth Curry, who made only 2 of 9 three-point tries, and 10 from Mason Plumlee. Creighton (28-8) got 21 points and nine rebounds from star Doug McDermott but little from the supporting cast as the Bluejays shot only 30.2 percent from the field.

Both teams shot poorly in the first half, but Duke's 35.7-percent effort at least reflected a balanced attack led by Sulaimon's 11 points. The Blue Devils took a 29-23 halftime lead when Tyler Thornton nailed a buzzer-beating three. Creighton shot only 29.6 percent as McDermott outscored his teammates 13-10.

A thing of beauty this game wasn't, especially coming on the heels of 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast's electrifying rout of San Diego State. That was a free-wheeling show that seemed to have players bouncing off trampolines toward the rim. But Creighton-Duke was an old-fashioned game played in the mud with peach baskets.

Early in the second half, Creighton cut Duke's lead to 29-27. But then Duke welded together what passed as the run of the game, a 14-5 surge that included seven straight points by Curry to push the lead to 43-32 and create some breathing room.

Despite a shooting pedigree that is pure platinum, Curry made only one of his first eight attempts from beyond the three-point arc. So he adjusted and drove inside to shoot and get to the foul line.

At the other end of the court, McDermott was doing the same thing. The degree of difficulty shooting inside against the 6-10 Plumlee and 6-11 Ryan Kelly was such that the best he often could do was draw contact and get to the line. Once he was unguarded, McDermott made the most of it, knocking down all 12 foul shots he took to keep the Bluejays' hopes flickering.

But Creighton couldn't get stops down the stretch, allowing Duke to score on 11 of its 12 possessions before it ran out the clock.

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