WASHINGTON — No. 1 is not done.
Duke, the top seed in the NCAA Tournament, endured an intense back-and-forth game and remarkably tense finish against fellow Atlantic Coast Conference team Virginia Tech and advanced to the Elite Eight, 75-73, on Friday night.
It was the second consecutive last-gasp victory for the Blue Devils, who got past Central Florida in a similar squeaker Sunday.
Virginia Tech’s spirited effort allowed the Hokies to be within two points and in possession of the ball with 5.8 seconds left. After Ty Outlaw missed a three-point attempt and the ball went out of bounds off Duke, the Hokies’ last try with 1.1 seconds left — a lob to Ahmed Hill — failed when Hill missed a point-blank shot. So Tech could not end the college career of presumed one-and-done star Zion Williamson.
Williamson, who wears uniform No. 1, scored 23 points. Star freshman RJ Barrett led a second-half comeback by scoring 15 of his 18 points. Fellow freshman Tre Jones scored 22 and directed the entire offense for the Blue Devils, who will play Michigan State here Sunday in the East Regional final.
“Now that it’s March Madness, every game is kind of going to be like this, close, hard-fought games,” Barrett said. “And we somehow find a way to keep winning at the end. And it’s great. We’re not surprised by it, but we’ve just got to keep it up.”
Hill, a senior whose 15 points were second on Virginia Tech to Kerry Blackshear’s 18, actually eluded Williamson on the climactic sequence.
“Our coaches drew up a great play. It’s a play we ran a lot last year. This was the first time we ran it this year,” Hill said. “I saw that they switched, I saw that he was trailing. Justin [Robinson] threw a great pass and I just came up short. I wasn’t worried about anything. I just kept my eyes locked on the rim and it just bounced to the left.”
Williamson, who made the game’s signature basket with 10:30 left when he dunked Jones’ high alley-oop lob, said of the ending: “I’m not even going to lie to you. When he caught it, I said, ‘Ah, we’re about to go to overtime.’ I mean, I don’t know what happened. It just kind of went our way with that play.”
Virginia Tech (26-9), the No. 4 seed in the East Regional, did not view this game the way many people did. That is to say the Hokies did not see it as a long shot vs. a heavily favored No. 1 overall seed (32-5). They viewed it as a matchup between ACC rivals.
“I don’t know if anyone said it, but in three out of my four years here at Virginia Tech, we’ve beaten Duke,” Robinson said.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said “we beat an outstanding team” and grew a bit emotional when he spoke of his team: “We’ve got a bunch of young guys, man. It’s a hell of a win for us. A great win. They were so damn good to coach. They rose to the occasion. I’m so darned proud of them.”