Freshmen shine as Duke beats San Diego State to reach Sweet 16

Led by Jahlil Okafor's 26 points, Duke cruised to a win over San Diego State in the NCAA tournament
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Kentucky gets most of the national attention for being a one-and-done factory, but considering the amount of sophomores and juniors that have contributed to the Wildcats it’s likely no team in the country relies more on its freshmen than Duke.

In their Round of 32 game against San Diego State on Sunday, the top-seeded Blue Devils showed why that’s not a bad thing at all. Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow combined to wreak havoc on the Aztecs all afternoon, leading Duke to a 68-49 win that was rarely competitive and earning a matchup with No. 5 seed Utah in the Sweet 16. 

San Diego State entered the matchup boasting the sixth-best defense in the country in opposing field goal percentage, but Steve Fisher’s team was no match for Duke’s Okafor-centric offense. The Aztecs simply couldn’t stop the stud big man, especially in the first half, when Okafor scored 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field.

Okafor dazzled all day, showing off his array of post moves down low, finishing on the break and even taking his man off the dribble several times en route to 26 points. His 47 points in the first two games of the tournament set a program record for a freshman.

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Meanwhile, Winslow did just about everything else for the Blue Devils, especially defensively, flying around and making life miserable for a San Diego State attack that played to its scouting report by failing to both hit jumpers and break down Duke’s defenders off the dribble. Winslow’s signature play came in the first half after a Duke turnover. The freshman flew back in transition to reject a San Diego State shot attempt, helping lead to a three-pointer by Quinn Cook that gave the Blue Devils a 33-15 lead.

After a lackluster first half, the Aztecs showed signs of life following the break, as Malik Pope hit the team’s first two three-pointers of the game to cut Duke’s lead to 44-37 with 12:45 remaining. But San Diego State would never get closer. Cook immediately hit another three to get the lead back to 10, and the Aztecs didn’t score for another six minutes as Duke went on an 11-0 run to seal the win.

Winlsow finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks. Cook added 15 points, while Winston Shepard led San Diego State with 13.

It was the second meeting alltime between Fisher, who turns 70 on Tuesday, and Mike Krzyzewski in the NCAA tournament. On the previous occasion, Duke defeated Fisher-coached Michigan in the 1992 national championship game in the first year of the Fab Five. Now it’s the Blue Devils looking to cut down the nets with a freshman-dominated squad.