The Duke Blue Devils decided today it was high time they start taking care of business. No more fooling around, like they did Thursday when a scrappy ball club from Itta Bena, Miss., almost bounced them out of the NCAA tournament.
"That really opened our eyes," said forward Mark Alarie. "We were living on our laurels. We won the ACC tournament and regular season, and anybody's going to be happy about that, but we overlooked Mississippi Valley State. Not to take anything away from them because they played a great game, but we really weren't ourselves. That had a lot to do with today."
Today, Old Dominion got whomped. Duke (34-2) never trailed and led by 30 points in beating the Monarchs, 89-61, in the second round of the East regional at Greensboro Coliseum. The Blue Devils, who had been eliminated from the tournament in the second round in each of the past two years, advanced to the East regional semifinals Friday in East Rutherford, N.J.
De Paul will be there when Duke gets there, as the 12th-seeded Blue Demons played a solid, steady game in upsetting fourth-seeded Oklahoma, 74-69. De Paul led by 12 in the first half, though Oklahoma cut the lead to 38-33 at halftime.
Oklahoma had Tim McCalister (18.4 points a game, 18 today) back in its lineup after a one-game suspension Thursday for throwing ice at a referee in last year's tournament, but he wasn't enough.
The Sooners (26-9) twice cut the lead to one point in the second half, the last time at 66-65 on McCalister's jumper with 2:22 left. But De Paul scored six in a row: Dallas Comegys made a jumper in the lane; Rod Strickland a layup, and Marty Embry two free throws for a 72-65 lead with 58 seconds left.
Oklahoma's David Johnson cut it to 73-69 with 39 seconds left and, after Kevin Holmes missed the front end of a one-and-one, Johnson had a chance to cut it to two but missed two free throws with 25 seconds left.
The difference was free throws. Each team had 32 field goals. De Paul made 10 of 21 foul shots for the game, but was eight for 13 in the last six minutes. Oklahoma shot five for 11 from the line, zero for three in the second half.
"We weren't doing so well," De Paul Coach Joey Meyer said, "but we hit some in the clutch, which is what counts."
He is in his second season after taking over from his father, but not everyone reads the paper. As he left the arena, two fans called: "Good job, Ray; good job, Ray."
Meyer can't explain it entirely, but his team has more confidence than it had in past NCAA tournaments.
"The difference is in the approach to the tournament," he said. "When you're 29-1, everybody is talking about you and you wait and wait to see who you're playing. There's so much pressure. We were just excited to be in the tournament, so we didn't have that pressure."
For Duke, it really was one of those games in which the turning point was the jump ball at the start. Alarie (13 points, 14 rebounds) made a 17-footer from the right wing to give the Blue Devils a 31-21 lead, after which they never led by fewer than 10.
"We were down so much," said Kenny Gattison, who led Old Dominion (23-8) with 17 points, "I looked up at the board and I couldn't add and subract it right. It was curtain time."
"I said before that Duke was the last of the four top-seeded teams that I'd want to play," said ODU Coach Tom Young, "and that's because of their defense."
A key to that defense was point guard Tommy Amaker, who played at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax. He was matched against ODU's Frank Smith, who played at Mount Vernon in Alexandria.
"Unfortunately, Frank Smith had a very tough day, the toughest he's ever had," Young said. "He is a good player, though, and I can understand three or four turnovers . . . but he had a day you'd love to forget."
Amaker finished with seven steals to go along with 10 points, seven assists and two turnovers. Smith had three points and nine turnovers, though he did have seven assists and five steals.
The defense and Alarie's board work got the fast break going, which is how guard Johnny Dawkins got many of his game-high 25 points.
"Defensively, we were outstanding," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We wanted to establish ourselves defensively and get back to playing man-to-man defense the way we know we can play. It started with Tommy's pressure on the ball and ended with Jay Bilas' good play on Gattison. Tommy and Johnny are just terrific in the open court. And Johnny's play speaks for itself."