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Duke blows out Michigan State, putting Mike Krzyzewski on brink of fifth national title

Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow of the Duke

Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow of the Duke Blue Devils celebrate after defeating the Michigan State Spartans during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 4, 2015 in Indianapolis. Credit: Getty Images / Andy Lyons

INDIANAPOLIS - This has been a year of milestones for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. In January at Madison Square Garden, he became the first Division I coach to record 1,000 victories with a win over St. John's. Last weekend, he reached his 12th Final Four, tying a record set by UCLA coach John Wooden.

Now Coach K has another shot at history. His Blue Devils scored an 81-61 victory over Michigan State in the first national semifinal game Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium to put Krzyzewski in Monday night's championship game against Wisconsin.

It's his ninth appearance in the title game, and a victory would give Krzyzewski his fifth national title, breaking a tie with former Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp for second all-time behind Wooden's 10 championships.

As a sign of Coach K's adaptability, he reached the title game by relying on the performances of four freshmen plus senior point guard Quinn Cook.

The Blue Devils got off to a slow start, trailing 14-6 at the outset, but came on strong the rest of the way with a tremendous defense that held Michigan State to 40.0-percent shooting and an offense that dominated points in the paint 42-26.

"Our defense was terrific, and we drove the ball to the basket with such strength," Krzyzewski said. "Our offense gave our defense a push with how hard we were taking it to the basket. Our last 36 minutes were our best basketball we've played, and we've played well in the tournament."

Freshman Justise Winslow had 19 points and nine rebounds, freshman Jahlil Okafor added 18 points and six rebounds and Cook scored 17 points for Duke (34-4). Freshman guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen contributed nine points each.

Denzel Valentine led the Spartans (27-12) with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Travis Trice had 16 points and five assists and Branden Dawson added 12 points and seven rebounds.

The Spartans opened as if they were primed for an upset, making five of their first seven shots, including four three-pointers, to take their 14-6 lead. But Okafor, who totaled only 15 points in two South Regional games, had seven points in a 14-2 run that put Duke in control with a 20-16 lead.

"They did a good job of taking me away," said Valentine, who had three treys in the opening surge. "They were denying. We took some bad shots and had some bad turnovers, and the next thing you know, they had the lead."

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said the Spartans did what they wanted on defense, guarding the three-point line and letting Okafor have his on the inside. He was incensed about the officiating, which put Duke at the line to hit 27 of 37 compared with a 10-for-16 effort by the Spartans.

"What beat us was the free-throw line and [14] turnovers," Izzo said. "It's drive and get fouled. You're not allowed to touch anybody. I've been here when we had smashmouth football, I mean, basketball."

That didn't explain why the Spartans missed 17 of their final 20 shots of the first half, which ended with Duke leading 36-25. But instead of responding with a second-half run, the Spartans got hit in the mouth with an 18-9 Duke burst for a 54-34 lead.

The Blue Devils had seven layups or dunks in that span, and Izzo admitted it felt as if some of his players "panicked" a bit.

"We knew we had to start fast in the second half because of what happened against Gonzaga," Winslow said, recalling the South Regional final. "Coach hit on that hard in the locker room at halftime."

Krzyzewski credited his young team for growing "smarter together" through the season. The freshman class was smart enough to get him to another title game.

New York Sports