It was God versus the Devil. The school with the storied history versus the school with the sullied history. Sampson versus Goliath. A team now more known for postseason meltdowns versus a team hoping to grow into a history of postseason meltdowns.
There was the school with what turned out to be a home court advantage on a neutral court versus the team with the belief that they're the home team no matter where they play. Ultimately, what yesterday offered up were two very good basketball teams going head-to-head for the right to advance to the Final Four and a Saturday-evening match-up against West Virginia while answering CBS's prayer that at least one number-one seed would survive to see the most important weekend of college basketball of the season.
Baylor, fed by a Reliant Stadium crowd of 47,492 that appeared to be a sea of green and gold that cheered loudly for Baylor throughout the action -- the Texans have never heard a crowd this loud or supportive -- ended the first half up on Duke by the score of 35-32. They then came out with another spurt of energy, and it appeared that, just moments into the second half, they were going to put the Duke Blue Devils away.
But Baylor was never able to deliver the knockout punch, and late in the second half, clinging to a one-point lead, they allowed Duke to rebound a miss of a Nolan Smith free throw. Smith had just tied the game when he made the first free throw, and suddenly, there he was wide open and burying the ball from the three-point range to put Duke up 64-61.
The suits at CBS' programming offices erupted into cheers. The spirits of the Baylor players appeared to deflate. And Duke just took command, winning the game 78-71.
After the game, Baylor coach Scott Drew pointed out that, looking at the stats, his team should have won. They held Duke to a 36.1 shooting percentage. They shut down Duke's star forward, Kyle Singler. But what Baylor didn't do was make free throws or get rebounds when they were most needed.
Duke "shot 80 percent [from the free throw line]," Drew said. "That's what wins you close games. And the second-chance points is the big thing. Take away those second-chance points -- we haven't lost a game by more than seven points all year long -- seven points is the difference right there. We hit our free throws. We don't give them second-chance points. They shoot 32 percent from the field. Different story."
Baylor reached the game yesterday by so totally dominating Saint Mary's College on Friday night that the final score of 72-49 is no indication of just how in control Baylor was of the game.
The game featured a little bit of everything for Baylor. Guard Tweety Carter ran the offense to perfection, finishing with 14 points, three assists, and three rebounds. Centers Josh Lomers and Ekpe Udoh dominated the boards, with Udoh finishing with 11 rebounds and Lomers with eight. And Lomers shut down St. Mary's high-profile, publicity-seeking, Taylor Swift-loving center Omar Samhan.
Then there was guard LaceDarius Dunn, who was just a marvel to behold. It wasn't that he scored 23 points. It's how he scored the 23 points, hitting shots that had the press row shaking their heads in collective disbelief at the shots they saw.
The Duke/Purdue game which closed out Friday night was much closer, with Duke winning 70-57. It was a game that Duke should have won easily, but instead turned into a game in which Duke was lucky to grab the lead at the half -- thanks to a buzzer-beating jumper off a rebound by Duke guard Nolan Smith -- and which found an undermanned, out-talented Purdue squad hanging around for most of the second half until Duke was able to get it's act together and pull away.
"I thought this is an example of a game someone doesn't lose," Krzyzewski said. "You know, we had to really win this game. You know, we had to really win this game because Purdue's effort was a winning effort."
In the end, with Saint Mary's embarrassed and Purdue just out-talented despite its winning effort, it came down to Baylor and Duke, the Baptists versus Tobacco Road. Only one number-one seed survived to reach this season's Final Four. And unfortunately for Baylor, that number-one seed was Duke. CBS and casual basketball fans might be happy. Evil triumphed over good once again.
For Baylor, there's always next year. For Duke, well, they still have to make it through next weekend and two more teams hoping to knock off one of the storied teams of college basketball history.
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