Three Hits: Curry, Duke oust Spartans

Three things we learned from Duke’s 71-61 victory over Michigan State in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional on Friday night in Indianapolis.

1. Curry is Duke’s key ingredient

Once again, Seth Curry saved his teammates from a game that could have gone the other way. Aside from Curry, the rest of the Blue Devils converted only 37.5 percent of their field-goal attempts Friday, including a paltry 1-for-9 from 3-point range. Curry, however, was 8 of 17 (47 percent) overall, including 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. He finished with 29 points.

Curry hit his first 3-pointer 90 seconds into the contest. His next came nine game minutes later, then three minutes later, spacing them out and giving Duke balance. But the 6-foot-2 senior scorched Michigan State out of the game to start the second half, knocking down three 3s in a 126-second span to help the Devils keep pace with the Spartans, who also opened the half on fire.

This isn’t new for Curry. In 18 games in which Curry has scored 20 or more points, the Blue Devils are now 15-3. In the three defeats, each of which came when Ryan Kelly was out with an injury, Curry was all Duke had.

He scored 22, 25 and 28 points in losses at North Carolina State, Maryland and Virginia, respectively. The rest of the Blue Devils shot 39 percent from the floor, including only 15.3 percent from 3-point range, in those games. Curry converted 26 of 47 from the floor (55.3 percent), including 12 of 25 (48 percent) from beyond the arc.

Curry’s eruption Friday also ended a short slump, as he had been just 8-for-24 on treys in Duke’s last four games.

2. Getting defensive has Devils still dancing

This isn’t a vintage Duke defensive team by any stretch. The Blue Devils have had their moments and have executed commands well enough to get by, but for this group won’t be remembered for locking down opponents.

And that’s why Duke’s defensive performances in the last two games has been a bit surprising but also quite crucial in the Devils advancing in the NCAA tournament. Opposing teams have converted 41.3 percent of their field-goal attempts this season, including 29.5 percent from 3-point range, which is actually rather respectable for the Devils.

But the overall shooting isn’t, especially for Duke, and is because Duke has struggled stopping penetration and has allowed plenty of looks in the lane. But that hasn’t been the case against Creighton or Michigan State.

Creighton finished the season leading the nation shooting 50.1 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from beyond the arc. Duke, however, limited to Bluejays to 30.2 percent from the field, including 2-for-19 (10.5 percent) from 3-point range.

The Spartans, which came into the contest shooting 46.1 percent from the field, made only 40 percent of their shot attempts and were 3 of 12 on 3s. In addition, Tom Izzo’s team was averaging 12 offensive rebounds per game, but Duke limited the Spartans to just eight.

3. Michigan State’s North Carolina hex continues

This was Michigan State’s 16th NCAA tournament appearance under Izzo, who led the Spartans to the national championship in 2000. Amazingly, six of their 15 elimination defeats in the tournament have come against schools located on 15-501 in central North Carolina.

Duke’s win marked the second time it has knocked Izzo’s team out of the tournament in the period that dates back to 1998, and the Blue Devils also got Michigan State 68-62 in the 1999 Final Four. The other four elimination game losses have come to North Carolina.

The Tar Heels beat Michigan State 73-58 in the Sweet 16 in 1998, 87-71 in the 2005 Final Four, 81-67 in the 2007 second round, and 89-72 in the 2009 national championship game. Michigan State has not eliminated either Duke or UNC during this period.

The average score in these games is 78.1-65.1.