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Duke squeaks past the Rams

Huntsman Center crowds are either extremely forgiving or forgetful.

In any event — just two weeks after Colorado State stunned Utah on its home court, forcing the Utes into a Mountain West co-championship with rival BYU of all teams — the Rams were treated like they owned the place on Thursday night against Duke in an NCAA Tournament first-round game.

With the exception of several hundred Duke fans in attendance, the sell-out crowd of 15,000 was fully behind the Rams as they rallied in the second half.

It nearly helped CSU pull off one of the biggest upsets in the building's history. Alas, it was not to be, however, as the heavily favored Blue Devils held on for a much-closer-than-it looks 67-57 victory.

"We feel like we won a big game against a really good basketball team," said a relieved Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Krzyzewski now has 59 more NCAA tourney coaching victories than CSU's Dale Layer, who is still looking for his first tournament win. Still, CSU did not play the part of sacrificial Rams for the tradition-rich Blue Devils.

In fact, with 1:54 remaining in the game, Colorado State's Shelton Johnson stepped to the foul line with the chance to tie the score with a pair of free throws. The momentum was in the Rams' favor as both of Duke's senior leaders — Dahntay Jones and Casey Sanders — had fouled out and the crowd was chanting "CSU, CSU" again.

But then Johnson missed both free throws. Duke freshmen Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick scored four points each in the final 80 seconds to silence the majority of the attendees and put the game away.

CSU, which went just 5-9 in the Mountain West regular season before getting hot enough to win three straight games last weekend in the league tourney in Las Vegas, was appreciative of the support it received in a usually hostile environment.

Being more familiar with the surroundings than Duke didn't help CSU's shooting percentage. The Rams shot a season-low 33.3 percent from the field. Greene had a particularly rough night, going just 3 for 15 — although he made all eight of his free throws to finish with 14 points to go along with 10 rebounds. The Rams were led by 7-foot center Matt Nelson's 21 points.

Duke, the No. 3 seed in the West, now moves on to play 11th-seed Central Michigan on Saturday at approximately 6 p.m.

Jones was on his way to a career-best scoring night — until he got into foul trouble. He netted Duke's first 11 points and had 23 on the game, three short of his all-time best, before fouling out with 5:51 to play.


E-MAIL: lojo@desnews.com