College Basketball

Duke opens NCAA play with 85-56 romp over Robert Morris

Duke's Jahlil Okafor (15) looks to regain control of a bobbled ball as Robert Morris' Aaron Tate (24) and Marcquise Reed (2) apply defensive pressure during the 2015 NCAA Division I Men's Second Round Basketball Championship action at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte on Friday March 20, 2015.
Duke's Jahlil Okafor (15) looks to regain control of a bobbled ball as Robert Morris' Aaron Tate (24) and Marcquise Reed (2) apply defensive pressure during the 2015 NCAA Division I Men's Second Round Basketball Championship action at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte on Friday March 20, 2015. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said earlier this week that his team doesn’t live in Duke’s NCAA tournament past because, for three-fifths of the Blue Devils’ starting lineup, they’ve never been in an NCAA tournament.

So it was no surprise that the player with the most experience in the postseason played like it.

Senior guard Quinn Cook had 22 points while hitting his first three 3-pointers in the No. 1 Blue Devils’ 85-56 romp of 16th-seeded Robert Morris.

“It’s big just for a player’s confidence just to see a shot go in,” said Cook, whose 22 points came on 8-of-12 shooting. “It causes a lot of attention. When I hit a couple guys run up to me and it opens up. Coach is always telling me to keep shooting. It doesn’t matter if I miss six in a row, miss 10 in a row. He always wants me to keep shooting. That does a lot for my confidence as well.”

Duke’s win – the program's 46th in the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed – was dominant, but there were still some holes for the 30-win squad.

Duke opened by making its first seven shots and nine of its first ten. The Blue Devils opened up a 22-9 lead thanks to several missed shots in the paint by the Colonials, who looked timid and nervous against the top seed.

“We missed four or five layups early in the game, that if those go, it might be a little bit of a different game,” RMU coach Andy Toole said. “I think it was 7-5 and then it was 22-9 and I think we missed three or four layups in that span. If you're looking at 22-15 or 22-17 maybe you're feeling a little bit better about yourself but sometimes playing against guys that make you play faster than you want, make you a little bit uncomfortable, you rush some of those layups you normally would finish, that's why they're the 1 seed.”

Cook went 6-for-8 from the field with four 3-pointers in the first half to score 16 points. He also had two steals while applying full-court pressure to the Colonial guards.

After one 3-pointer, Cook stared down members of the media courtside. After another he smiled at the Robert Morris bench before turning his attention to the Duke crowd.

The Blue Devils were loose, but they were almost too loose in the second half.

Freshman big man Jahlil Okafor missed a reverse dunk on a fast break with the Blue Devils up 51-32. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was incensed and promptly replaced Okafor with Marshall Plumlee.

“We've played in big, big time games where we know we can't have that,” Cook said. “You know, two points can end your season. Freshman mistake, Jah knows that that and he bounced back from it.”

The Colonials went on a 10-0 run after the timeout to cut the Duke lead to 54-44, but it’s the best they could do.

Duke’s bench took over as Plumlee and Amile Jefferson put in solid minutes. Eight of Plumlee’s 10 points came on dunks while Jefferson also had 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

“I think it's the last month really, Marshall has been consistently good,” Krzyzewski said. “He's had great practices. He's had mature, veteran practices where he never takes a possession off, he's talking, he's sharp, and it really sets a good tone, and it translates because he does that in the practice. And in the game tonight, our guys threw three lobs to him, maybe four, and that's showing confidence in him. But he deserves that because he and Amile really did a great job for us tonight.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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