Somehow, after 40 seasons and five decades roaming the college basketball sidelines like Alexander the Great did the modern-day Middle East centuries ago, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski found himself in a game that he admitted that he had never been a part of, regardless of whether history was on the line. It was another game to win…which happened to be win No. 1,000, by the way.
In a game which did seem as if it unfolded through three different acts, Duke used an 18-2 run late in the game to hold off St. John’s 77-68 to earn Coach K win number 1,000, becoming the first man is Division I college basketball to achieve the milestone.
That game-ending run was the coda in a game where the Blue Devils jumped out to a 21-10 lead, only for the Red Storm to outscore them 51-30 over the next 24 minutes to seemingly establish control of the game. Jahlil Okafor, projected to be the overall No. 1 pick in this year’s upcoming NBA draft, was dominant in the paint in the second half, finishing the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Another freshman, guard Tyus Jones, led all scorers with 22 points, including hitting a game-sealing three with 1:15 left to give Duke a 72-65 lead.
Even with all of the wins prior to Sunday, Krzyzewski knew the significance of hitting his latest round number in symbolizing the greatness he has built in Durham.
“To win 1,000, you need to be a lucky guy,” said Krzyzewski, who was joined at the postgame press conference by his wife, two of his daughters and seven of his nine grandchildren. “There will be others that win more, but it’s kind of neat to be the first to 1,000 wins, and the quality of competition that we had.”
Though the game was dominated – at least statistically – by the freshmen sensations in Blue, many of Coach K’s Duke teams through the years have been littered with role players whose job is not only to complement the more ballyhooed players by filling out the roster, but sometimes give effort on the floor to inspire their teammates, if needed. Sunday was one of those instances where it was necessary, with sophomore guard Matt Jones and junior center Marshall Plumlee lifting the team’s intensity level during the second half.
Jones and Plumlee combined for nine rebounds in the second half, just three shy than St. John’s grabbed as a team in the final 20 minutes.
“In the last 10 minutes, Plumlee and Jones just gave us so many plays,” Krzyzewski said. “Plumlee’s defensive rebounding and one big offensive rebound to keep an exchange going. Matt just played with amazing heart and it just seemed to bring even more heart out of Jahlil and Quinn (Cook) and Tyus.”
Even with the overall good play against another quality opponent, the Red Storm once again couldn’t close out a marquee game at MSG, already losing tight contests to Top 10 teams Gonzaga and Villanova at home. Sir’Dominic Pointer led the Red Storm in all facets, adding four assists, three steals, three blocks to a double-double effort of 21 points and 10 rebounds. Leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison hit a three-pointer right before the first-half buzzer to give the Johnnies a 43-39 lead, but only finished with 12 points after shooting 2-for-9 in the second half.
“For us, I thought we just missed some easy looks,” said Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin, whose Red Storm are only 2-5 after an 11-1 start to the season. “We had some good shots that just didn’t go in – the ones that were going in during the first half just didn’t go in in the second half. Overall, big picture, if you followed out team these past three weeks, you can see that we’re making progress. We are improving.”
Over the past three decades, Duke, under Krzyzewski has racked up the wins against quality competition, with 503 of Coach K’s wins having come in Atlantic Coast Conference games (regular season plus ACC Tournament) and in the NCAA Tournament combined. That was something not lost when putting the achievement into perspective.
“Over half of our wins have been in the ACC or the NCAA Tournament,” Krzyzewski continued. “That’s not even counting Maui Tournaments, NIT, and all of that. I am proud of that, too. It’s not just the number of wins, but the quality of opponents we’ve had. Coaching at West Point and Duke have given me the opportunity to do that.”
The attention clearly was focused on Krzyzewski’s historic bid, but Okafor playing at Madison Square Garden, home of the lowly New York Knicks who are in the middle of what might be their worst season in franchise history, provided an interesting plot line, given that there’s a chance he might make the arena home as a professional if he forgoes his college eligibility after this season and the ping pong balls bounce the Knicks’ way.
“They’re just supporting their team on my fan page and Twitter,” said Okafor, reacting to some of the responses he saw and heard from Knicks fans in the crowd and on cyberspace.
It was fitting that the Blue Devils made history at the “mecca” of college basketball, Madison Square Garden, where now 28 of Krzyzewski’s coaching wins have come. Three seasons ago, Krzyzewski passed his mentor, Bob Knight, on the all-time Division-1 wins list when he won his 903rd game against Michigan State, also at Madison Square Garden.
“I like my place, Cameron (Indoor Stadium), but this is a magical place and we beat a really good team and a storied program that I’ve had respect for since I was a player at Army a long time ago,” Krzyzewski said. Their program has stood the test of time and so has ours. To win in this setting against a storied program makes this even better.”
[Cover photo (Mike Krzyzewski) courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images]