SportsPulse: The Zion vs. Tacko duel lived up to the hype in the most exciting game of the tournament. USA TODAY’s Scott Gleeson breaks down how Duke was able to avoid a historic upset.
Duke survived Central Florida’s determined second round upset bid in a 77-76 thriller that undeniably checked out as this NCAA tournament’s most exciting game so far and proved to be an instant March classic.
Here are six defining plays from the game’s final few minutes that left us all at the edge of our seats.
1. Zion Williamson charging at 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall and scoring. Williamson’s fearless bucket with 14 seconds left positioned Duke for the tie. Trailing 76-73, the Blue Devils looked like they were trying to go for a game-tying 3-pointer after missing one seconds before. But instead, Williamson aptly read the defense and tenaciously attacked the tallest player in college basketball, scoring with contact and fouling Fall out of the game.
2. R.J. Barrett’s rebound and put-back with 11 seconds left. Barrett saved the day after Williamson’s missed and-1 free-throw, fighting through a herd of UCF defenders and willing the ball in for the game-winning score.
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3. Aubrey Dawkins’ missed tip-in with one second left. Dawkins, the coach’s son and undoubted hero had UCF pulled this off, finished with 32 points and was seen cringing in pain as the final horn sounded after his one-handed tip-in off teammate B.J. Taylor’s miss barely rimmed out.
4. UCF’s crucial missed dunk, Cam Reddish’s subsequent 3-pointer. Clutching to a 74-70 lead with two minutes to go, UCF was on a 2-on-1 breakaway that saw Dayon Griffin throw the ball to Dawkins for a wide-open alley-oop attempt that would have put the Knights up by six. Instead, Dawkins inexplicably missed the dunk and on the very next play Reddish drained a momentous 3-pointer to slice the lead to one with 1:41 to go.
5. The shot clock delay at 2:09-minute mark. Both teams had to wait for the officials to deliberate on a debatable call that saw Tacko Fall convert a dunk after it seemed as though B.J. Taylor’s jumper didn’t hit the rim. Since referees couldn’t prove that the ball for sure didn’t hit the rim (the shot clock starts over if it touched any part) they counted the basket and it gave UCF a huge four-point edge going into the game’s final two minutes.
6. The missed UCF defensive rebound before Williamson’s big play. Everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Knights on their last defensive sequence did. Before Williamson and Barrett’s heroics, a discombobulated Duke offense saw Williamson attempt a potential game-tying three that missed with 33 seconds left. Instead, Javin DeLaurier (who missed two crucial free throws with 1:09 left) got the game-saving rebound and dished it out to the future No. 1 pick in the NBA draft for what turned out to be the play of the game — and perhaps the tournament.