Published March 21, 2011
| Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The final shot came from a much closer distance, and it only would have forced overtime. There wasn't a national championship trophy waiting for the winner immediately afterward.
But for a Duke team once again holding its breath with an opponent's last-gasp attempt in the air, the result was plenty familiar.
The top-seeded Blue Devils gave coach Mike Krzyzewski his 900th career victory Sunday, a 73-71 win over Michigan that wasn't secure until the Wolverines' last shot bounced off the iron.
"Whether or not he got a clean look at it," Duke forward Ryan Kelly said, "we made the stop that mattered."
Nolan Smith scored 24 points and Kyle Singler added 13 for the Blue Devils (32-4), who shot 51 percent, never trailed in the second half and advanced to the round of 16 for the 12th time in 14 years. Next stop: Anaheim, Calif., for the West regional semifinals Thursday night against fifth-seeded Arizona.
Duke's Tobacco Road rival also had a nail-biter. At the end of a dizzying final 15 seconds, North Carolina was celebrating about the only thing that seemed normal: a spot in the NCAA tournament's round of 16.
With Tyler Zeller scoring 23 points and Harrison Barnes 22 while adding to his collecting of clutch shots, the Tar Heels inched another step closer to their return to college basketball's elite status with an 86-83 victory over Washington in the East region.
Surviving a wild finish, second-seeded North Carolina (28-7) advanced to the regional semifinals for a record 24th time to face Marquette on Friday in Newark, N.J.
Not bad for a team demoted to the NIT last year and then this season had to endure a mediocre start, a lineup change and watch former starting point guard Larry Drew II quit the team.
"Times were very dark," Barnes said. "We just kept working as a team. We didn't let anything get us down."
Some good fortune was needed to finally dispatch the pesky seventh-seeded Huskies (24-11), who have as many NCAA tournament wins (18) as North Carolina has Final Four appearances.
While Barnes' 3-pointer with just over 4 minutes to go put North Carolina ahead to stay, the craziness started when Washington cut a six-point deficit to 84-83 on Terrence Ross' 3-pointer with 17.3 seconds left.
North Carolina's Kendall Marshall — who set a school NCAA tournament record with 14 assists — then went to the foul line missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
Washington's Venoy Overton missed a runner in the lane at the other end, but the ball bounced off North Carolina and out of bounds with 7.4 seconds left.
On the inbound play, 6-foot-10 John Henson knocked away Justin Holiday's pass under the basket and the ball landed in Strickland's hands. Strickland, who needs offseason knee surgery, hit two free throws with 5.4 seconds to go for a three-point lead.
"He's a tough little nut," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of Strickland.
But Williams, coaching through a stomach bug, couldn't rest easy, not even after Washington's Overton responded by launching a way-too-early halfcourt shot with about 3 seconds remaining that fell well short.
"I think what Venoy did was he prematurely anticipated them fouling," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "He tried to get three shots if they were going to foul him. I think that's what happened. But they didn't foul him."
So game over, right? Not even close.
Instead of letting the errant shot go harmlessly out of bounds, Henson touched it first.
"It happened," Henson explained.
Now it was time for the officials to get involved.
Replays with the game clock superimposed on the screen showed there should have been 1.1 or 1.2 seconds to go, giving Washington ample time for a tying 3-point attempt. Instead the clock showed half a second.
But the referees didn't adjust it thanks to a delayed whistle by the baseline official.
"There's always a lag time between the time the play occurs and the whistle is blown and the clock stops," referee Doug Shows told a pool reporter. "By rule, the clock stops when the whistle blows."
Needing to hurry, the Huskies then inbounded the ball to their star, Isaiah Thomas, who launched an off-balance shot from the left corner. It was way too short, but Henson inexplicably touched the ball just before it would have hit the rim and the Washington bench erupted pleading for a goaltending call.
"I said, 'What were you thinking,'" Williams said he told Henson.
Turns out it wouldn't have mattered.
"I might have had my left foot on the line," Thomas said.
Replays showed he did and it was a 2-point attempt as the partisan crowd celebrated North Carolina's 25th straight NCAA win in its home state and 11th in a row in Charlotte.
"It's really a wonderful win for us," Williams said.
Segments of Sunday's Duke game felt awfully familiar for the Blue Devils, who capped a run to last year's national title with a dramatic two-point victory over Butler that wasn't settled until Gordon Hayward's halfcourt heave ricocheted off the glass and the iron at the buzzer.
"We told our kids it would be like playing Butler in the national championship — a very similar, tough-minded, really, really good basketball team," Krzyzewski said. "I'm proud of our effort and obvious ecstatic that we're moving on."
No. 8 seed Michigan (21-14) which trailed by 15 with 10:51 to play, clawed within one point twice in the final 90 seconds before Smith missed a free throw with 8.7 seconds left to give the Wolverines one last chance.
Darius Morris zipped downcourt and put up a runner in the lane with 2 seconds left. The shot bounced off the back iron and the rebound went to Smith at the buzzer.
Morris finished with 16 points to lead Michigan, which shot nearly 51 percent and made seven 3-pointers — the most allowed by Duke in a month.
Kyrie Irving and Kelly scored 11 points apiece for the Blue Devils, who won their eighth straight game in the NCAA tournament.
"I don't want to take this Duke jersey off. As simple as that," Smith said. "Every game could be my last."
Krzyzewski improved to 900-283 in his 36th season and can catch his mentor and college coach for first on the career list next weekend. He would match Bob Knight with a victory in the regional final, and would pass him with one win in Houston that also would put the reigning national champions back in the title game.
"The 900, it means that we're advancing," Krzyzewski said. "That's the main thing."
AP Sports Writer Mike Cranston contributed to this report.