Duke survived Central Florida’s determined second-round upset bid in a 77-76 thriller that undeniably stands 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 had us all on 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 as if they were going for a game-tying 3-pointer after missing one seconds before. 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 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 undoubtedly the hero had UCF pulled this off, finished with 32 points. But the bucket that wouldn’t quite fall will be among the enduring highlights from this tournament. His one-handed tip-in attempt of teammate B.J. Taylor’s miss bounced a couple of times on the rim before falling away.
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 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. Teammate 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.