Four-time national champ Duke advanced to the NCAA men’s basketball title game, dominating Michigan State 81-61 in Indianapolis on Saturday.
The Blue Devils will play for the championship on Monday night against the winner of the second Final Four game to be contested later Saturday between undefeated Kentucky and Wisconsin.
Freshman Justise Winslow led Duke with 19 points while national freshman of the year Jahlil Okafor had 18 points, 10 of which came in the first half. Senior guard Quinn Cook had 17.
“The defense was terrific,” Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We drove the ball with such strength. I actually think our offense gave our defense a push.”
Junior guard Denzel Valentine sparked the Spartans with three early three-pointers and finished with 22 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Senior guard Travis Trice had 16 points.
The Spartans, of the Big Ten, began the game in a higher gear than Duke, and quickly took an eight-point lead. But after Valentine hit his trio of long-range shots and Michigan State led 14-6, the Spartans struggled to get baskets the rest of the first half.
“They did a good job of denying us and forcing us out (farther from the basket). We took some bad shots,” Valentine said.
Duke occasionally used a 2-3 zone defense that protected some of their players with foul concerns and slowed the Spartans down. But it was when Duke played man-to-man that the Spartans really had a hard time scoring.
State made five of its first seven shots, then only made three more in the final 16 minutes of the opening half.
The Blue Devils, of the Atlantic Coast Conference, found baskets inside as the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Okafor powered for points around the basket.
Winslow used his quickness to score seven points in the first half, but he only played 12 minutes because he committed two fouls. Duke led at halftime 36-25, a turnaround of 19 points from its early deficit.
“Coach always stresses that great defense leads to great offense,” Cook said. The confidence gained in getting defensive stops led to the desire for Duke players to drive the lane instead of shooting three-pointers.
“We saw seams that we could take advantage of,” Cook said.
In the second half, Duke increased its lead to 20 points, then cruised home. The Spartans were never able to cut the deficit to single digits and Duke sank its free throws in the final minutes.
“We got beat and … Duke played awfully well, but I thought it wasn’t one of our better games,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said.
The Blue Devils apparently like playing in Final Fours in Indianapolis, home of the NCAA. It won titles there in 1991 and 2010. The other two crowns came in 1992 and 2001, each in Minneapolis.
If Duke wins Monday night, it would tie Indiana and North Carolina for third-most NCAA championships with five.