Duke picks itself off the deck, scores huge W at #2 UVA

dukelogoGive Duke credit. The deck was stacked against the Blue Devils, with an assist from Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski, who after the loss at #8 Notre Dame on Wednesday kicked junior sixth man Rasheed Sulaimon out of the program for undisclosed reasons.

Duke was just 4-3 in ACC play, and the whispers weren’t whispers anymore. The reliance on freshmen one-and-dones, last year Jabari Parker, this year Jahlil Okafor, wasn’t doing the program well, because talented as they are, they’re not there to learn anything from Coach K, just there to be able to say they played for the man, akin to how another undergrad might intern for a senator, for the resume material.

They were going to get theirs on Saturday against a UVA team that does it the right way, with kids who stay for four years, who play a system that takes years to master, that grinds opponents over 40 minutes into so much mush.

Five minutes left, Duke was mush, down nine, facing a hostile crowd, something else that freshmen have a hard time dealing with, tough environments on the road.

“I’m proud of our guys. It’s been a hell of a week for us,” Krzyzewski said after his team closed out an improbable 69-63 win that saw Duke score on its final eight possessions and hit five of its last six shots from three-point range.

The Blue Devils also held Virginia scoreless for the final 2:59 to finish on an 11-0 run.

It’s a sign of the times for both programs that Duke players dogpiled in the tunnel just off the court at the John Paul Jones Arena on their way back to the locker room after the game, with Coach K jumping into the arms of a Duke staffer as he made his way to the scene.

It was that big a win for a young Duke team that sort of desperately needed it. A loss sends Duke to a 4-4 record in ACC play, and virtually eliminates the Blue Devils from contention for a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, probably puts them more in the range of a four, five, even six seed, looking at the schedule down the stretch.

The win is a difference much more than the difference between 4-4 and 5-3 in conference play.

“For our guys to have the werewithal and toughness to win tonight says a lot about them and our team,” Coach K said.

– Column by Chris Graham

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Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.


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