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Writer: Stewart Mandel
Post time: 8:51 p.m., Thursday
WASHINGTON D.C. -- When Thursday night's Duke-Belmont game tipped off at a little after 7 p.m. EST, the Verizon Center was not yet two-thirds full and the only noise was coming from the three sections of Duke fans in the lower bowl behind their team's bench and the small but boisterous pocket of Belmont fans across the way.
As the game has gone on, however, two things have occurred: The arena has filled up with West Virginia, Arizona and other fans -- and Belmont keeps hanging around. Guess who all those non-Duke fans are rooting for?
Duke led 42-35 at the half and shortly after intermission it seemed inevitable that the Blue Devils would soon pull away. But the pesky Bruins, which have excelled both at finding the open cutter inside and hitting key shots from outside, refused to go away. With just over 10 minutes remaining, Belmont's Matthew Dotson hit a three-pointer to cut Duke's lead to 56-55 and a roar spread across the crowd.
Shortly thereafter, Alex Renfroe drove coast to coast, put in a layup and got fouled by Duke's Nolan Smith to put the Bruins up 58-56. That caused the arena to go nuts -- and the excitement remains palpable throughout. Each Belmont missed jumper draws a loud "Oooooh," and each Blue Devils miss elicits a loud cheer. The fans are starting to believe they might be witnessing an epic upset.
As I write this, Duke has reclaimed the lead 60-58. Does Belmont have eight more good minutes in them? If they do, the Verizon Center might just lift off the ground.