INDIANAPOLIS >> The latest Duke team to reach the national championship game got there behind a couple of freshmen and some of the trademark defense coach Mike Krzyzewski’s teams have long been known for.
Justise Winslow scored 19 points and Jahlil Okafor added 18 to lead top-seeded Duke to an 81-61 victory over Michigan State on Saturday and into the title game.
The two freshmen put up some impressive stats in their first Final Four game. Winslow, who played through some early foul trouble, had nine rebounds and was 5 for 7 from the field, while Okafor grabbed six rebounds and was 7 for 11 from the field.
Senior Quinn Cook had 17 points for the Blue Devils (34-4), who dominated the game except for the opening minutes when they trailed 14-6.
Denzel Valentine led the Spartans (27-12) with 22 points and 11 rebounds while Travis Trice added 16 points.
Defensively, it was a team effort, just the way Krzyzewski has stressed for his 35 seasons at Duke. What had been wide open 3-pointers early for Michigan State became contested shots and when the Blue Devils started getting up and on the Spartans, the points were suddenly tough to come by.
“After the first four minutes, we were a different team. We played great basketball tonight, especially on the defensive end,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m so proud of my guys because they beat a great team.”
The win improved Krzyzewski’s record in national semifinal games to 9-3 and that includes 3-0 in Indianapolis where the Blue Devils won it all in 1991 and 2010. They had some success earlier this season in Indianapolis as well, beating Michigan State 81-71 on Nov. 18 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the Champions Classic.
A win on Monday night against either Kentucky or Wisconsin would mean a fifth national championship for Krzyzewski breaking a tie with Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and leaving him behind only John Wooden, who won 10 at UCLA.
“It’s an amazing thing, I mean, just to be in the Final Four, but to play on Monday night is the ultimate honor,” Krzyzewski said. “I hope our guys get their rest and we can get the same type of effort we got tonight.”
Cook was already thinking of Monday night.
“Dreams come true, you know,” he said. “Dreams come true.”
The Blue Devils have won 17 of 18 with the only loss to Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Michigan State shot 40 percent from the field (22 of 55) for the game but the Spartans were just 8 of 27 (29.6 percent) in the first half.
The loss dropped Michigan State coach Tom Izzo to 3-4 in national semifinal games and he is 1-1 in Indianapolis where the Spartans won it all in 2000.
Seventh-seeded Michigan State was the only non-No. 1 team in the Final Four. The Spartans came in having won eight of their last nine games and in the four tournament games were allowing 61.2 points per game on 33.9 percent shooting Duke had 61 points — and a 20-point lead — with just under 10 minutes to play.
Michigan State’s torrid start from the field didn’t last very long. The Spartans had a 14-6 lead just 4 minutes into the game.
Valentine, who came in shooting 41 percent from 3-point range, hit his first three shots from beyond the arc and another by Trice had the Spartans 4 of 4 from long range and 5 of 7 overall.
That’s when Duke made some defensive adjustments and the tide turned quickly.
With Okafor scoring half the points, the Blue Devils went on a 14-2 run to take a 20-16 lead with 9:12 left.
The Spartans couldn’t make anything as Duke went ahead by as many as 12 points on the way to a 36-25 halftime lead.
Michigan State finished the half 8 of 27 from the field — Branden Dawson was 2 of 8 with most of the misses from right underneath the basket — and the Spartans missed their last five 3-point attempts of the half. They weren’t taking care of the ball either, committing seven turnovers, one off their average for a game in the tournament. They finished with 14.
Duke took advantage of their team speed to get the Spartans in foul trouble and the Blue Devils were 12 of 16 from the free throw line in the first half while Michigan State was 5 of 7.