COLUMBIA, S.C. — Playing his first NCAA tournament game, Duke freshman Zion Williamson offered up an explosion of highlight-reel plays early in the second half that helped the Blue Devils easily put away North Dakota State, 85-62.
Williamson, who grew up about 90 miles from Colonial Life Arena in Spartanburg, S.C., took full advantage of the chance to play in his home state, finishing with 25 points on 12-of-16 field goals.
But it was a series of plays in the opening minutes of the second-half from Williamson that sparked Duke, whose offense slogged through the opening 20 minutes. Leading just 31-27, Williamson got a layup and a foul on Duke’s second possession of the half, missed the free throw but got his own rebound and slammed it with his right hand in one move.
By the time Williamson got his eighth point in the first 3:42 of the half, Duke had extended the lead to 44-30.
R.J. Barrett also played well for the Blue Devils, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds, making he and Williamson the first pair of freshmen teammates to score 25 or more points in an NCAA tournament game.
Wing Cam Reddish rebounded from an 0-for-5 first half to hit a pair of threes as Duke built a 64-37 lead with 11:05 remaining. Both Barrett and Reddish have struggled with their outside shots at times this season, but Duke will become exponentially more difficult to beat if they get into a rhythm.
The Blue Devils shot 57 percent in the second half with just two turnovers.
Duke will play the winner between No. 8 VCU and No. 9 UCF on Sunday.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken.