Duke Basketball was nearing the end of Coach K’s career — and growing up when it mattered

GREENVILLE, SC — Mike Krzyzewski looked down from the podium at the five players who refused to end his last dance as they staged a frenetic comeback to advance into the Sweet 16 with an 85-76 win over Michigan State. and he choked back tears.

For almost a year he had known that the finish line was in sight. He chose this path, a farewell tour where he could relive some of his classic moments and perhaps write a final chapter worthy of his epic 42-year career. The finality of Krzyzewski’s run has hung like a cloud over everything Duke has done this season, every game, junior Wendell Moore Jr. said, another “last thing” for Krzyzewski, but always with the knowledge that more “takes time.” “.

However, Sunday was different. When Marcus Bingham Jr. sunk two free throws to give Michigan State a five-point lead at 5-10, the end wasn’t just a dot on the horizon. It had arrived.

When Bingham went for his first free throw, Paolo Banchero was furious. Mark Williams was stunned. Trevor Keels hung his head. Moore clapped his hands, almost as if trying to wake his team from an unfathomable nightmare.

All season Duke struggled to protect leads. On Sunday, the Blue Devils coughed up a nine-point cushion against Michigan State.

All season long, Duke’s players have shouldered the responsibility of putting a fitting end to their coach’s legendary career, and all too often—in the regular-season finals against North Carolina or in the ACC tournament against Virginia Tech—it seemed too difficult to be burden. Now that weight threatened to crush her completely.

All season, the Blue Devils have worked to carve their own space amidst the overwhelming narrative of Krzyzewski’s Last Dance. The NCAA tournament was meant to be a fresh start, and yet the basketball gods conspired to provide another compelling moment all about their coach. Krzyzewski vs. Tom Izzo was undoubtedly the NCAA’s dream match as Duke and Michigan State were placed in the same region. It was only fitting, of course, that these two friends, who have faced each other 16 times in their careers, should also have one final showdown. Now Izzo had the upper hand.

In truth, the entire season had built upon it, and if it had ended there, it almost felt appropriate.

But that’s not all.

Banchero will be Krzyzewski’s last real elite contender and he looked late as he drove to the basket and delivered a layup to stop the bleeding after the Spartans’ 11-2 run.

Keels had struggled but he buried a 3 with 3:24 to tie the game. It allowed a legion of Duke fans to breathe out for the first time in what felt like forever.

Williams, an early force of nature in color, didn’t get a shot in the final 14 minutes of the game, but on defense he swallowed Michigan State’s offense and played “like a hockey goalie.” said Krzyzewski.

Jeremy Roach was the forgotten member of Duke’s lottery band, but he kept driving to the basket in those final minutes, attacking the basket with such determination that even Krzyzewski was stunned. Those rides, Krzyzewski said, were among the best he’d seen in his 42 years on the sidelines. And then Roach delivered the dagger – a 3-pointer that Krzyzewski insists he found the basket not through accuracy but through sheer willpower.

That’s why Krzyzewski’s eyes watered after the game. This season was about him, a celebration of nearly half a century in college basketball, but when the end finally came, it was those players who reached out and pulled him back from the brink.

“I think they showed their true colors,” Izzo said. “They lost to North Carolina at home. You lost to Virginia Tech. The same kind of games. We came back and went up. she [could have] just drifted into the sunset. And I thought, Mike Krzyzewski fashion, they reached down and did an incredible job of doing it to us.”

When it was over, Moore was asked if he was considering a last stand for Krzyzewski during those agonizing seconds as Bingham stood at the free-throw line to extend Michigan State’s lead. No, he said. He never thought about losing. He thought of a road trip.

Two road trips, actually, Moore said.

Twice in July, Moore, Banchero, Roach, Keels and Williams packed into a car and drove to the annual Peach Jam basketball games in Atlanta to sit in the stands and watch their former grassroots teams face off.

“Since then we’ve just called ourselves ‘The Road Crew,'” Moore said. “We knew it would come to us at some point [this season].”

With five minutes left in Krzyzewski’s career, the road crew cowered.

“We looked each other in the eyes,” Moore said, “and we knew we weren’t going to lose.”

Duke is in the Sweet 16. Krzyzewski survived another acid test against a worthy opponent. In a game sold as a matchup of legendary trainers, Duke’s players wrote their own mythology.

As Michigan State took the lead in the second half, Krzyzewski said his team looked young. It’s a chorus he’s repeated many times this season, and he wondered if the bill was due for packing a list of potential lottery picks that hadn’t quite found their sea legs.

“We were young there for a while,” he said, “and I wondered if we were going to stay young.”

Instead, that group grew, and in the process the Blue Devils made their 75-year-old coach feel young again and won a game that belongs in the pantheon of Krzyzewski’s greatest.

The end will come. It’s out there on the horizon in San Francisco next weekend or in New Orleans at the Final Four.

But whenever the music stops, Sunday proved this group of blue devils were worthy of the dance.

https://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/33560555/duke-basketball-faced-end-coach-k-career-grew-mattered Duke Basketball was nearing the end of Coach K’s career — and growing up when it mattered

Joel McCord

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