March Madness is here, and the staple of college basketball got underway yesterday with reigning champion Duke University taking on UNC Wilmington at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
By: Peter Elliott – NFL, MLB, and NCAA writer – @PelliottSports
UNC Wilmington came out of the gate running on pure adrenaline, intensity, and especially confidence, as Wilmington’s guard play kept them in the lead for most of the first half. You can attribute the praise to senior Craig Ponder, who scored nine points while being helped out by fellow guards Denzel Ingram, who contributed 11 points while grabbing four rebounds and Chris Flemmings, a 6’5″ junior who added ten points with four rebounds in only the first half.
After a discouraging opening frame where Duke was outscored by 43-40 by their inferior opponent, Blue Devils center Marshall Plumlee ditched his mask (both literally and figuratively) at halftime and came back in a way that only Superman could. You can see the effect he has on his team, as he walked into the locker room saying, “I got you.” After struggling to do much the half before, Plumlee as well as the rest of the Duke team came alive and pulled out a victory.
It’s easy to see why the senior looked like a man among children, as the 7’1″ giant finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, and three steals, using his infectious energy to ignite his teammates. Versatile Duke freshman and likely 2016 NBA Lottery pick Brandon Ingram performed well, shooting 7-12 from the field and scoring 20 points while being a rebound shy of collecting another double-double.
UNC Wilmington struggled down the stretch, as they relied heavily on their starters, who couldn’t keep up with Ingram, Plumlee, and the rest of Duke’s stars, including guard Grayson Allen who was one of the reasons Wilmington collected 33 team fouls, as he shot 17 free throws, capitalizing on 15 of them. Allen finished with 20 points and five assists. The Seahawks didn’t have a bench to fall back on either, as they went 1-9 at a place not named the free throw line and made only 11 points in 47 minutes as a collective unit.
Duke finished with 93 over UNC Wilmington’s 85, as they now advance to the Round of 32 to face 12 seed Yale, who upset 5 seed Baylor.