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NCAA Tournament: Marvin Bagley III, Duke overpower Rhode Island

Marvin Bagley III dunks during Duke's dominant

Marvin Bagley III dunks during Duke's dominant win over Rhode Island in second round of Big Dance. Credit: Getty Images / Justin K. Aller

PITTSBURGH — Rhode Island’s coach would have loved to make a full, proper preparation before playing Duke. He had the right idea, too, in identifying just who could have come in and simulated all the things that Duke does well. Darned if he could find an NBA team available, though.

“They have the inside game, the three-point game and then the length of that zone was really . . . we were just spooked,” Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley said after his team found itself out of its league in an 87-62 loss.

So Duke moved on to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, where it will be someone else’s problem.

“We would have needed a C-plus game from them just to have a chance today to be competitive,” said Hurley, who well knows the Blue Devils program and coach Mike Krzyzewski from the days when his brother Bobby played there. The losing coach gave second-seeded Duke (28-7) a solid A-plus on this day.

If it was not their new and improving zone defense that gets you, it is their array of talented players — perhaps five eventual first-round NBA Draft picks. Each of the starters scored in double figures. “The whole season, we have been trying to mesh and find that rotation,” said Gary Trent Jr., a freshman guard who had 18 points. “We are rolling and clicking and are all familiar with each other now.”

That rates a massive “uh-oh” from the remaining Midwest Regional teams that will gather in Omaha next weekend. The greatest headache of all will be figuring out how to deal with Marvin Bagley III, a 6-11 freshman who appears to be getting better and in a class by himself. Seventh-seeded Rhode Island (26-8) tried double-teaming him but found that, as Hurley said, “He moves like a guard. He’s into his move before the trap could even get there.”

Put it this way: Bagley has the same jumping ability of his maternal grandfather Joe Caldwell, an NBA and ABA all-star who was known as “Pogo Joe” because of his leaping. Plus, Bagley is six inches taller and has better range on his jump shot. On Saturday, the young Blue Devil scored 22 points, shot 8-for-10 and had nine rebounds.

“He runs the court so well, it really opens up a lot for us in transition, whether he gets the ball or not,” senior teammate Grayson Allen said. “Someone has to go down there and guard him and that’s why we get threes. And then he’s always on the boards. So another great game for him like we’ve had from him all year.”

Bagley said, “Everybody was on, so I wasn’t really focused on getting my shot. As long as it says two points for Duke, that’s all that matters.”

The freshman got a pat on the shoulder from Krzyzewski when he said that during the team’s news conference.

Not everyone is so enthralled with the Duke mystique, of course. The team drew loud boos from many neutral fans at PPG Paints Arena. Rhode Island fans stood and cheered their senior players at the end, for having transformed the program under Hurley (a candidate for the Connecticut coaching job).

“This is my guy. I know we’re not the same color, but he’s definitely my father,” E.C. Matthews (game-high 23 points) said of the hug he gave Hurley on his way off the court.

Hurley regretted that his group had not been able to go out with more “honor,” but there was just too much to overcome. “That was the best display of basketball I’ve seen played against one of my Rhode Island teams in six years,” the coach said, referring to his entire tenure at the school to date. “They looked like an NBA team out there.”

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