LAS VEGAS (NWN) – In a city known for major championship fights, it seemed fitting for the long-awaited 40-minute heavyweight bout between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 5 Duke in Las Vegas.
Paolo Banchero scored 21 points to help Duke keep the turnover-prone Gonzaga team 84-81 in front of the 20,389 fans announced on Friday night – the biggest basketball crowd ever in Nevada.
“It’s really a big-time game, what a big crowd,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is in his final year at the helm of the Blue Devils (7-0). “We thought it might be a showcase game and it was. But it was wonderful to have such a crowd. Obviously, we’re feeling great about winning, and we think we’ve made an excellent basketball team.” has defeated.”
That’s saying something, Gonzaga’s coach Mark Few considered shaping his schedule after Duke.
“We’ve always asked over the years before deciding on anything – how do we travel, how do we work, how do we schedule, facility-wise – the first question is always, ‘What is the Duke doing? Is?’ “Some said. “I don’t think I can give a greater honor than this.”
Unfortunately for some, the best of his Bulldogs couldn’t match the resilience of Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils.
Gonzaga (6-1) came back from a nine-point deficit at the start of the second half thanks to Julian Strother’s offensive skills. He scored eight of the Bulldogs’ first 14 points which helped them reach within two. But Gonzaga suffered through a 0-for-5 span down the stretch and swung the ball three times to allow Duke to close the game on 13-9.
“We felt like if we did our best and did the best we could, we’d have a real shot at winning,” Banchero said.
Wendell Moore Jr. scored 20 points and Mark Williams added 17 points and 9 rebounds for the Blue Devils.
Strother led Gonzaga with a career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds, including shooting 57.1% from the floor in the second half. Drew Timme added 17 points for the Bulldogs, Chet Holmgren 16 points and Rusir Bolton added 15 points.
“The beautiful thing is that we all believe in each other,” said Strother, who recorded his second career double-double. “Even if I miss a few shots, they keep looking for me. That’s what really drives me. They showed a lot of faith in me after I missed a few.”
Gonzaga, however, had a total of 17 turnovers for the game.
The Bulldogs worked their way up to a 53–52 lead, and the game quickly became a battle between Duke’s relentless defensive pressure and Gonzaga’s precise passing, which the Bulldogs made on the fly.
“It felt like a Final Four-type game,” Timme said. “The atmosphere was great and two Goliaths were going over it.”
After Gonzaga took an early 4–0 lead, Duke quickly established dominance with a 17–6 run, with Banchero and Williams putting on a show for the Duke crowd.
The Bulldogs closed the gap to three, 19-16, but Banchero scored 13 of Duke’s next 21 points. Holmgren, who had to sit midway through the first half, returned with 1:27 left in the half to deflect a soft jumper with one hand and then a 3-pointer by Strother.
Duke took a 45-42 lead at halftime.
In the record crowd: former boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, former Cy Young champ and World Series champion Orel Hershisser, PGA golfer Brooks Koepka, former NBA player Marcus Banks and sports agent Rich Paul.
Duke: The Blue Devils faithful proved it travels well, with most of the crowd inside T-Mobile Arena draped in Duke blue.
Gonzaga: Before Friday night, the Bulldogs trailed for a total of 3:18 in four games — against Texas, Alcorn State, Bellarmine and UCLA. Gonzaga was behind for more than 20 minutes against Duke, until Timme again took the lead on a pair of free throws at the 17-minute mark of the second half.
Duke: Visited Ohio State on Tuesday.
Gonzaga: Host Tarleton State on Monday.
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