Duke’s clutch play sends Coach K back to Elite 8

Duke's clutch play sends Coach K back to Elite 8 thumbnail

2: 55 AM ET

  • medcalf myron

    Myron MedcalfESPN Staff Writer

    Close

    • Covers college basketball
    • Joined ESPN.com in 2011
    • Graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato

SAN FRANCISCO — Toward the end of Duke‘s 78-73 win over Texas Tech on Thursday night in the Sweet 16, the Blue Devils fans who’d swarmed Chase Center were suddenly unsure if they were witnessing the continuation of a career or the end of one.

In a competitive game that featured 11 ties and 13 lead changes, the fans realized they might be watching the final minutes of Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure, with Duke battling a team that entered the night with the nation’s top defense. Krzyzewski listened carefully to his players during the game, when they said it was time for him to return to a man to man defense after a zone had disrupted Texas Tech’s flow in the second period. His trust in them helped the program secure a trip to the Elite Eight and a matchup against Arkansas.

” “It was like an Catholic boys’ chorus,” Krzyzewski described about the players’ collective call to tweak the second-half. It was a chorus. They all sang it. They all said it and they did it with enthusiasm: “We want to do that.” We want to be men. God bless them. These kids are a wonderful group. They’ve grown up so much in the last 12 days. It’s a great joy. It’s amazing. “

The change seemed to confuse Red Raiders and, more importantly it helped Duke regain confidence. The win extended Krzyzewski’s final season by Duke with key decisions and clutch plays down to the end.

Late in the second half, Duke freshman Paolo Banchero (22 points) countered Texas Tech guard Kevin McCullar‘s 3-pointer with a shot from beyond the arc that gave Duke a 69-68 lead with 2: 57 seconds to play. Jeremy Roach (15 points, five assists) made clutch plays, including consecutive jumpers to extend the Blue Devils’ lead in the final minutes, and kept the energy going when he verbally sparred with a few Texas Tech players. Mark Williams (16 points, eight rebounds) played above the rim in the second half.

The Blue Devils scored on 12 of their final 15 possessions and made their final eight shots from the field. After the game, Banchero stated that in the most important moments of the year, they’ve always been there to help and that this was a great moment. “I don’t know if these guys, but I have never played in a basketball match like that. It’s not like you think when you’re out there. You are playing to win and you work extremely hard. When you do that, you don’t have to be afraid of what the moment holds for you as a team. “

Duke has reached the Elite Eight in each of its past three NCAA tournament appearances (2018, 2019, 2022).

Thursday night’s win unfolded in a place where Krzyzewski had not found much success. He had lost three of his previous NCAA tournament games on West Coast. In addition, Texas Tech was a popular choice to stop Duke.

The win on Thursday also highlighted another key to Krzyzewski’s success: He doesn’t fear to adapt. Texas Tech was made more nervous by the Duke’s second-half switch to a zone defense. McCullar and Bryson Williams combined to score 38 points for the Red Raiders, but the defensive change also made them think twice about every shot.

Afterward, Krzyzewski said the zone defense “saved” the Blue Devils. According to ESPN Stats & Information on Thursday, Duke used a zone defense approximately half of the time in the second period. The Red Raiders failed to score on any six possessions against the zone. Texas Tech shot just 33% from the field against the zone on Thursday compared with 44% against man-to-man defense.

Throughout the season, schools around the country celebrated Krzyzewski’s career. He admitted Wednesday that his farewell tour had negatively impacted his young team. Duke had battled Michigan State in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16 and then needed a comeback in the second half of Thursday’s game.

With a minute remaining, Banchero and his team slapped the floor together, a Duke tradition. Their energy was now higher. They used that energy to win the game and get to the Elite Eight on Saturday.

Krzyzewski said it was a definitive moment for the team.

” The slapping of the floor… why the hell? Why not? Krzyzewski stated after the game. “Our guys really wanted it because it’s kinda like a cross the bridge to brotherhood’ [moment]. They can now say that they did it. They will hopefully be able to say it again on Saturday. “

Read More