Duke overtakes No. 1 seed Houston to make Elite Eight after Cougars’ star Jamal Shead leaves with ankle injury

Written by on March 30, 2024

DALLAS — On one side of the floor inside the American Airlines Center late Friday night, there was jubilation. Duke players high-fived each other with grins ear to ear after the No. 4 seed Blue Devils defeated No. 1 seed Houston in a 54-51 stunner to advance to their 24th Elite Eight in program history. One Duke staff member dished out a hearty chest bump to overpower Jared McCain in celebration.

On the other side of the floor, there was heartache. Houston guard Emanuel Sharp crouched to his knees at midcourt as the game — and his season — came to an abrupt and unexpected end. Cougars guard LJ Cryer’s hands drooped past his knees with his head hung. Then there was fellow teammate Jamal Shead, who injured his ankle with 6:38 remaining in the first half and was unable to return, sitting despondent on the bench with his head stuffed between his arms and powerless to watch as the clocked hit zeroes after Duke’s game-clinching inbounds. 

One team has to win every game. One team has to lose. That is how basketball works. But in Duke’s first Sweet 16 win of the Jon Scheyer era, winning with Shead on the sideline was a cruel twist of fate that served as a miserable subplot to an otherwise brilliant back-and-forth between two elite teams.

“Obviously he’s a great player,” said Duke guard Jeremy Roach, who scored all 14 of his points with Shead sidelined. “He’s the heart and soul of the team.”

Shead’s injury-prompted sidelining spurred a 13-6 run for Duke to close the first half and Houston, just minutes after the injury and surrendering the lead, never led thereafter. He was seen on a stabilization scooter at halftime and underwent testing, which revealed a Grade 4 sprain. 

“I doubt any team in America has — maybe (Zach) Edey from Purdue — that means as much to their team as Jamal means to this team,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “There’s just not another Jamal. He was the best player on the floor tonight. He’s been the best player on the floor every game we’ve played this year except a few.”

How things started suggested Houston might well be the ones partying after 40 minutes of basketball. It opened the game by immediately tossing Duke on the ropes to deflate the arena here in Dallas. And after an 8-0 run to start the game, Duke looked dazed as if it just took an uppercut straight to the jaw. 

Duke punched back with the steadiness and poise of a championship team, though, overcoming that early deficit and outlasting a dinged-up Cougars team that all season looked like one of the top three teams in the sport when healthy.

“You have to show great poise in these moments,” Scheyer said. “You know your team wants it really badly, but I’m beyond fortunate to have learned from [Mike Krzyzewski] as a player and as a coach just the amount of situations you’re in together. I could go on and on. Being down in a game, being up, just learning how to win, that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from him.”

Much of this Duke team was a part of Duke’s team last year when its season ended vs. Tennessee in the second round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. That was an eye-opening moment for that Duke team, and a motivational one for this Duke team; Roach said after the game that Scheyer reminded the Blue devils of that result frequently this season. 

After getting beat up physically by a tough Vols team to end last year, there’s perhaps no greater validation than a Sweet 16 win one year later against a Houston team that, hands down, qualifies as the toughest and most physical in college basketball.

“To start out that way and just claw our way back,” Scheyer said, “I think any questions about their mental toughness or any questions about their heart, I think they answered that tonight.”

There are more questions that need to be answered for Duke, which turns around quickly to play ACC foe NC State at 5:05 p.m. ET Sunday in the South Regional final. You might remember the last time these two teams played, NC State eliminated the Blue Devils from ACC Tournament play — the third of an eight-game (and counting) winning streak. But this Duke team is different from that Duke team we saw even two weeks ago in D.C. It’s certainly different from the one that fell short of an NCAA championship last year. 

Now, with a second Final Four berth in three years on the line, it must once again prove it is title-worthy by confronting head-on a Wolfpack team that has shown — this last week and this last month — it is more than capable of ending Duke’s hopes for a championship.

The post Duke overtakes No. 1 seed Houston to make Elite Eight after Cougars’ star Jamal Shead leaves with ankle injury first appeared on CBS Sports.

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