LAS VEGAS – In a city known for its big championship fights, this only seemed fitting for a long-awaited 40-minute heavyweight fight between No.1 Gonzaga and No.5 Duke will take place in Las Vegas.
Paolo Banchero scored 21 points to help Duke fend off an 84-81 turnover-prone Gonzaga team on Friday night in front of 20,389 fans announced – the biggest basketball crowd ever in Nevada.
“It’s just a very important game, what a great crowd,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is in his final year at the helm of the Duke Blue Devils (7-0). “We thought it could be a demonstration game and it was. But having this type of crowd was amazing. Obviously we are thrilled with the victory and believe we have beaten an outstanding basketball team. “
That does mean something, given that Gonzaga’s coach Mark Few is shaping his schedule after Duke.
“We’ve always asked over the years before we have to make decisions about anything – how we travel, how we operate, how we plan, in terms of facilities – the first question is always, ‘What does Duke? mentioned. “I don’t think I can pay more respect than that.”
Unfortunately for Few, his best Bulldogs couldn’t match the resilience of Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils.
Gonzaga (6-1) recovered from a nine-point deficit thanks to the offensive prowess of Julian Strawther at the start of the second half. He scored eight of the Bulldogs’ first 14 points to help them come close to the two. But Gonzaga suffered a 0-5 streak down the home stretch and returned the ball three times to allow Duke to end the game on a 13-9 streak.
“We felt like if we played our best and did what we do best, we were going to have a real chance of winning,” said Banchero.
Wendell Moore Jr. scored 20 points and Mark Williams added 17 points and nine rebounds for the Blue Devils.
Strawther led Gonzaga with a career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds, including a 57.1 percent shot from the floor in the second half. Drew Timme added 17 points, Chet Holmgren had 16 and Rasir Bolton added 15 for the Bulldogs.
“The beautiful thing is that we all believe in each other,” said Strawther, who recorded his second career double-double. “Even if I miss a few shots, they will keep looking for me. This is really what keeps me going. They showed a lot of faith in me after I missed a few.
Gonzaga, however, recorded 17 total turnovers for the game.
The Bulldogs regained a 53-52 lead, and the game quickly became a battle between relentless defensive pressure from Duke and Gonzaga’s precise passage through the lanes the Bulldogs created on the fly.
“It was like a Final Four type game,” said Timme. “The atmosphere was great and it was two Goliaths tackling it.”
After Gonzaga took an early 4-0 lead, Duke quickly established his dominance with a 17-6 run, with Banchero and Williams putting on a show for the much-loved Duke crowd.
The Bulldogs closed the lead to three, 19-16, but Banchero scored 13 of Duke’s next 21 points. Holmgren, who had to sit halfway in the first half due to a foul issue, came back with 1:27 left in the half and emptied a one-handed jumper followed by a 3 points of Strawther.
Duke held a 45-42 lead at halftime.