Duke holds off No. 1 Zags in back-and-forth clash

LAS VEGAS — Everything about No. 1 Gonzaga‘s matchup against No. 5 Duke on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena felt magnified.

The game, an 84-81 win for Duke, lived up to the hype.

Paolo Banchero, ESPN’s projected No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, had 20 of his game-high 21 points in the first half of the victory. He did it all for Duke, including going 3-of-8 from 3-point range, and proved to be an unstoppable force. But he left the game in the second half with what appeared to be cramping issues, the same issues he had in his team’s season-opening win over Kentucky. He returned near the eight-minute mark of the second half.

Duke, however, also displayed its depth. It was not the same crew without Banchero, but Mark Williams (17 points) and Wendell Moore Jr. (20 points) helped the Blue Devils maintain their edge.

Chet Holmgren, ESPN’s projected No. 1 pick in the draft, had an efficient effort around the rim but missed his first three 3-point attempts. Still, he never lost his composure and made key plays late. Gonzaga had to play most of the first half without the 7-footer, who picked up his second foul near the 10-minute mark.

Drew Timme, the national player of the year contender, also wrestled with foul trouble, picking up his fourth foul down the stretch of the game and going to the bench. But sophomore Julian Strawther, a Las Vegas native, had a big night in front of family members and friends. He finished with 20 points before fouling out late.

In the end, however, Duke’s speed and athleticism gave it the edge. And, the Blue Devils had Banchero. Gonzaga did not.

Before the game, the streets around the building had been blocked off by police cars and security was tight. In the moments before the game, fans scrambled to find a ticket. As tipoff approached, some courtside seats were going for nearly $8,000.

Brooks Koepka and Floyd Mayweather Jr. — wearing a chain that glistened across the building — were part of the crowd of 20,389 that filled the arena and set a record for the largest basketball crowd in Nevada history.

One fan in the concourse received a phone call and kept saying to the person on the other end, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”

Duke could never quite pull away from Gonzaga after a fast start, and at halftime, the Blue Devils had just a three-point lead. The back-and-forth chaos continued into the second half, when Duke had to weather Banchero’s absence.

A Jeremy Roach bucket tied the score at 73-73, but then Moore intercepted the inbounds pass, got fouled by Holmgren and made his free throws to give Duke a 75-73 lead. Then a Duke free throw followed.

A Timme bucket cut Duke’s lead to one with about 90 seconds to play. Two Duke free throws followed. Timme threw a pass to Holmgren for the dunk on the other end, and it was a one-point game when Roach drove and scored to extend Duke’s lead to 80-77 with 41.2 seconds to play.

That had been the pace of the game all night. Gonzaga would get close, but nothing ever seemed to stick. Timme’s shot with about 30 seconds to play was altered by Williams. From there, Duke made three throws to seal the win and hand Gonzaga its first first loss of the season in a class nonconference matchup.

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