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story.lead_photo.caption Duke players celebrate on the bench during the Blue Devils’ 77-76 victory over Central Florida on Sunday in the NCAA Men’s Tournament at Columbia, S.C. Duke survived Central Florida’s missed tip-in at the buzzer to advance to the regional semifinals.

EAST REGIONAL

DUKE 77, CENTRAL FLORIDA 76

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Zion Williamson took on 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall at the end and won. So did top-seeded Duke -- barely -- when two last-ditch shots by Central Florida rolled off the rim.

Williamson had 32 points and helped rally the Blue Devils from behind in the final minute for a 77-76 victory Sunday to reach the Sweet 16.

Aubrey Dawkins finished with 32 points for the Knights, but his tip-in try just missed in the final seconds.

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski "talks a lot about the basketball gods," a happy Williamson said. "They had our backs today."

Williamson was key to the comeback. He made a layup over Fall with 14.4 seconds left to draw Duke within a point as Fall fouled out on the play. Williamson missed the free throw, but RJ Barrett scored on a putback to put the Blue Devils (31-5) ahead.

Barrett said he had watched plenty of NCAA Tournament games where players missed foul shots and an offensive rebound could have made the difference.

"I was going to do whatever I can to get this rebound," he said.

Ninth-seeded Central Florida (24-9) had a final chance -- two of them, actually, from in close.

B.J. Taylor missed a short jumper, and Dawkins failed on his tip attempt with less than two seconds left, the ball spinning off the rim. Duke got the rebound, ran out the clock and moved on to the Sweet 16 for 27th time and fourth time in the past five years.

"It was up there forever, I felt like, in slow motion," Dawkins said.

Dawkins cringed at the miss. His father, Johnny, is the Central Florida coach and was a former Duke star and longtime assistant under Krzyzewski. The two coaches shared a long embrace at midcourt after it was over.

"It's tough," the elder Dawkins said. "I love that man. Without him, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Barrett finished with 16 points.

It looked as if Dawkins might take down his dad's alma mater in the NCAAs.

His last basket broke a 70-70 tie, and when Fall dunked Taylor's miss -- the play was reviewed for a possible shot-clock violation -- the Knights were ahead 74-70.

UCF missed a huge chance to go up six when it couldn't connect on an alley-oop dunk attempt with 1:49 left -- Dayon Griffin's lob went off Dawkins' hands as he soared toward the rim -- and Cam Reddish came back with a three-pointer for Duke. Taylor it made 76-73 with two foul shots with 45 seconds to go.

Williamson then missed a three, but Duke grabbed the rebound and got the ball back to their high-flying freshman. Williams caught a pass left of the key and dribbled straight into Fall's 7-6, 310-pound frame.

Fall had stuffed Williamson three previous times, and Duke's young star was less effective underneath than he'd been his past four games. But Williamson got this shot to drop, shouting as he fell hard to the ground.

"I just tried to stay big and make a play," Fall said. "Obviously, I was in foul trouble, so I was being careful. But I just tried to make a play and make him miss and it didn't go my way."

When Duke dribbled away with the final rebound, Williamson and his teammates jumped in celebration and relief. They were moving on.

Duke will face No. 4 seed Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C., on Friday night for a spot in the Elite Eight.

Williamson, the game's most explosive player, was clearly affected by Fall. Who wouldn't be as the Knights senior stood 11 inches taller than Williamson and has a wingspan of 8-foot-4?

With Fall inside, Williamson went to the perimeter, hitting 3 three-pointers after entering with just 18 on the season. When Fall was hit with foul trouble, Williamson charged to the hoop.

Fall finished with 15 points and six rebounds in his final college game.

Trailing 34-32 in the final four minutes of the opening half, Williamson hit a short jumper, and then collected Jordan Goldwire's miss for a three-point play. Barrett added a three-point play and Williamson threw a one-handed bounce pass to a streaking Jones for an easy layup as Duke led 44-36 at the break.

Williamson had 15 points in the first half, but had not dunked on the tall Fall -- mainly because UCF's center played just eight minutes due to foul trouble.

VIRGINIA TECH 67, LIBERTY 58

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Virginia Tech advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 52 years by beating 12th-seeded Liberty.

Kerry Blackshear had 19 points and nine rebounds for fourth-seeded Virginia Tech (25-8). The Hokies' advanced this far just once before, in 1967 when they lost to the Dayton in the regional final.

Ahmed Hill added 14 points and Justin Robinson scored 13 to help the Hokies beat an in-state rival and advance to a matchup with top-seeded Duke.

Darius McGhee scored 15 points to lead Liberty (29-7), which won its first tournament game ever Friday against Mississippi State. Caleb Homesley was held to 8 points on 3-for-11 shooting after scoring 30 points to fuel the first-round upset.

Liberty looked to build on that breakthrough win and a 9-0 run early in the second half put the Flames up by five. The Hokies tightened up defensively after that and Liberty missed 11 of 12 shots from the field -- with six of the misses from three-point range. Liberty also committed four turnovers and trailed by 56-49 on a layup by Nickel Alexander-Walker with about four minutes to go that capped an 11-0 run.

After Liberty made one free throw, Hill converted a three-point play off an inbound pass to extend the lead to nine points and the Hokies held on from there.

Photo by AP/SEAN RAYFORD
Central Florida guard Dayon Griffin (left) is consoled by Ceasar DeJesus after Knights’ loss to top-seeded Duke on Sunday.

Sports on 03/25/2019

Print Headline: Battle of giants: Last 2 shots don’t fall as Duke moves on

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