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Duke s free throw line scares can t just be isolated

Throughout Duke s entire postseason run, the Blue Devils have found themselves toeing a thin line between advancing and going home.

And when Duke s luck finally ran out, it came down to an Achilles heel that has plagued the Blue Devils all season free throws.
With a team packing firepower from Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, the Blue Devils were magicians at cutting to the paint, drawing contact and finishing at the rim. Yet, for a team that excels at getting to the line, Duke struggled all season to convert, making just 68.7 percent of shots from the charity stripe—ranking 246th in the nation. Pundits have harped for months that the Blue Devils shortcomings from the free throw line and beyond the arc would keep them away from Minneapolis, and with the season quite literally coming down to the line, Duke ultimately came up short.

They hit a big shot, Barrett said. Then we came down and we weren t able to score. I had two free throws, missed one and that was about it.

Throughout the evening, Duke missed multiple opportunities to gain the extra edge off of free throws. Williamson missed three of his five attempts at the line, including a key and one to build the Blue Devils momentum early in the first half. Although Barrett made a majority of his free throws Jayson Tatum Jersey, Duke had the opportunity to take a two point lead down the stretch, but the young Blue Devil bricked.

With the game on the line, Barrett managed to drive inside and draw a foul with Duke down two and seconds left on the clock, but the Canadian Blue Devil missed the biggest free throw of his career. In a twist of irony bordering on cruel, after Barrett missed the first shot and tried to rim out the second to give Duke the opportunity grab a last second offensive board, the ball bounced up and miraculously rolled in, giving the Spartans the opportunity to run out the clock and send the Blue Devils home.

We didn t have enough fouls, Barrett said on the final play of the game. There wasn t enough time. So I tried to miss the second one and it s funny that it went in.

Of course, Duke s free throw line scares can t just be isolated to the final game of the season.

In the Blue Devils first major scare of the tournament against Central Florida, Duke had the opportunity to tie up the game after a foul sent Javin DeLaurier to the line. Unfortunately for Duke, the 56 percent free throw shooter failed to convert on both attempts. Moments later, the Blue Devils had another golden opportunity thanks to an and one drive from Williamson, but the future lottery pick missed his shot. Luckily, the Blue Devils were bailed out with a kind bounce to Barrett for an offensive board and a putback for the lead.

Just a week later against Virginia Tech, Duke held on by a thread with a two point lead, and Tre Jones was sent to the line for the one and one. Yet Jones, one of Duke s better shooters at 75.8 percent from the line, missed the front end to give the Hokies the final possession—a bullet the Blue Devils barely dodged yet again.

Despite the highlight reels and incredible and improbable moments, Duke could not escape an Achilles heel that has lingered in the background all season. For all of the talent and hype the Blue Devils brought in, it was one of the most fundamental strokes of college basketball that left Duke wondering what could have been.

Just that it s over, Barrett said of the final moments of the season. Every day we came in, worked our butts off, and we really gave everything that we had all season long, and we had so much success. So to see that happen at the end. All credit to [Michigan State]. They played a hell of a game. But for it to be over for us is heartbreaking.

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