Mike Gminski hit two free throws with 17 seconds left and Rhode Island missed its final two shots as Duke escaped with a 63-62 victory in the first round of the NCAA East regional at Charlotte Coliseum yesterday.
Indiana edged Furman, 63-62, in the first game after leading by as much as 13.
Rhode Island, now 24-7, was in contention right up until the time its spectacular forward. Sly Williams, fouled out with 27 points with 17 seconds to go.
It was Williams' foul on a rebound that sent Duke's 6-foot-11 center to the foul line to shoot one and one with Duke trailing, 62-61. Gminski blew on his fingers and bounced the first one on the front of the rim and in for a tie. He swished the second for a 63-62 lead.
After a timeout, Rhode Island inbounded the ball at midcourt with the seconds ticking away. Stan Wright's 22-footer was off, and John Nelson's forced follow-up shot also went astray.
Duke advanced to the second round at Providence against Pennsylvania, winner yesterday over St. Bonaventure, 92-83.
Gminski led Duke with 25 points. Jim Spanarkel added 18 and Eugene Banks had 14 Duke is 24-6.
"We played awfully tentative and slow and we know we're lucky to get out of here with a win," said Duke Coach Bill Foster after his first NCAA tournament game. "We just didn't perform well. The only thing we really did that was worthwhile was to get Sly out of there."
This is Duke's first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1966 after several last-place finishes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Spanarkel said that "we were shaky at times and we'll have to work to get the kinks out.When Rhode Island's last shots went up, I had collided with someone and was on my hands and knees on the floor. Maybe I should have prayed."
Gminski said that he has been waiting for an opportunity to win games with free throws ever since he lost the game at Virginia by failing on a one-and-one.
"I thought of that," said Gminski. "And I said, 'I'm just going to go up and stick 'em.' And I stuck 'em.'
It was pointed out that the first bounced all over the rim before it dropped in.
"I was hoping you wouldn't notice," he said.
Duke came out cold, missing its first five shots as Rhode Island went in front 4-0. The Blue devils then made their next six, and the first half ended with Rhode Island holding a 31-30 lead.
The Rams' biggest lead of the half was 27-22 with three minutes left. Guard John Nelson missed two shots outside Duke's zone, and Gminski brought Duke to within a point with a turnaround shot from the baseline and an 18-footer from near the circle.
Gminski led the Blue Devils in scoring in the first half with 10 points while Banks and Spanarkel each added eight.
Rhode Island at intermission had 10 points from Williams, the team's leading scorer.
Both teams played zone defenses and both played in spurts in the first 20 minutes. Duke held a 24-17 advantage on the boards, with Banks leaping for seven in the first half. Both teams shot below 46 percent and Duke never led by more than two in the even first half.
In yesterday's first game, Indiana struggled to hold off Furman, after leading by as many as 13 points in the second half.
Furman, 19-11, inbounded the ball with two seconds left and a shot from near the midcourt strips by Rodney Arnold fell short.
"I'll tell you something," said Indiana Coach Bobby Knight. "I look at basketball objectively and I don't think the team that won this game deserved to win. Furman deserves to win on the basis of what they did with their opportunities in the last seven or eight minutes, compared to what we did or didn't do with ours in the same period."
Furman Coach Joe Williams said, "We worked harder and outhustled them, and maybe that's all you can ask. Maybe that's what athletics is all about."
Indiana, now 21-7, will play Villanova Friday at Providence. Villanova beat LaSalle yesterday, 103-97.