DURHAM — Mike Krzyzewski had many options when he chose what to talk about after Duke’s 69-65 win against Virginia on Monday night.
He could have addressed how badly No. 23 Duke (13-4, 2-2) needed this win, after starting 1-2 in the ACC. If he wanted to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy, he could have mentioned that his team gave up a 13-1 run down the stretch, faltering late in the game again.
Or he could have talked at length about the impressive comeback highlighted by a 3-pointer from Rasheed Sulaimon in the final 36 seconds – a fact he touched on, albeit briefly.
Instead of all that, Krzyzewski, unprompted, talked about himself in a way he rarely does, putting aside basketball and focusing on life outside the court.
“We haven’t been at our best since the start of conference, and I haven’t been at my best since Christmas. That’s my responsibility,” he said, alluding to the Dec. 26 death of his older brother, Bill. “We were there tonight, and we were collectively together tonight for the first time in a couple of weeks. It was my responsibility that we weren’t as much as we should have. But today we were.”
After every question he fielded, save a specific one about defending Joe Harris on Virginia’s final play, Krzyzewski laid blame on himself, even when none was implied.
Why did Duke sub more often, many times changing out all five guys, with every scholarship player but Josh Hairston and Semi Ojeleye playing at least 10 minutes?
“I’m not saying we will platoon like that all the time, but we are going to play more guys. Again, I’ve had to get more observant with my team. I take responsibility, full responsibility, for those first three games,” he said, referring to the win against Georgia Tech and losses at Notre Dame and Clemson.
“Everything is on me. Part of it is not seeing some things. And one of the things is, at times, we would get tired because we’re not as big as some teams. So getting more guys in would help.”
The urgency Duke displayed – was it something someone had said?
“We’ve been playing hard,” he said. “I got knocked back right after Christmas. And I’ve been knocked back for a couple of weeks. It’s on me, not on my team. So what we have been doing, to me, doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. It’s on me. What we will be doing, that will be on all of us. Today is on all of us. Win or lose. We’re all in today. That’s the way it is.
“Look, we’re human beings. And human beings have setbacks. Also, you don’t get a lifetime membership in the NCAA tournament, just because we’ve been in there and we’ve won it four times. And we’ve been to 11 Final Fours. You have to pay your dues every year. That’s the way it is. It’s a good club. It’s a good club, and it’s tough to get in.
“We’re starting to pay our dues better. The head coach is going to do a better job. We did a better job tonight. I can do better. I can do better for my team.”
From the beginning, this game was different. Duke debuted a new starting line-up with Matt Jones, who had played five minutes total in Duke’s first three ACC games. When the tip made its way to Jones, who handed it off to Quinn Cook, Duke’s point guard stopped, paused, stared at the ball as he gave it a slap, and off the Blue Devils went.
Duke forced Virginia into contested shots (four) and turnovers (three) en route to an 8-0 lead. Midway through this run, though, three minutes into the game, Krzyzewski sent five subs to the scorer’s table: Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston, Sulaimon, Andre Dawkins and Marshall Plumlee. The full-scale line changes (or subs of three and four guys) continued throughout the game.
Sulaimon finished with a team-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, most of which came when he was the main option on offense, playing primarily with Duke’s reserves. He displayed an aggressiveness and willingness to drive to the basket that was reminiscent of last season, not his sophomore campaign to date.
Sulaimon, along with Amile Jefferson, was the hero at the end. After Virginia (12-5, 3-1) took a one-point lead – its first of the game – with 38 seconds left, Duke ran a play for Rodney Hood. He missed the shot, but Jefferson grabbed the rebound and got it to the corner, where Sulaimon drilled a 3-pointer, putting Duke up 67-65.
Then it was Jefferson who disrupted the Virginia in-bounds pass and came down with the rebound off of a Harris miss in the post. Jefferson – a 50 percent free throw shooter on the year – made both shots at the other end. He finished with his first career double-double, 10 points and 15 rebounds.
“It was a gut-check game for us,” Cook said. “The team last week would have lost this game. It says a lot about our character.”
“Today my team was marvelous, and I love them,” Krzyzewski said. “I loved them for how hard they played.”
No. 23 DUKE 69, VIRGINIA 65
Percentages: FG .382, FT .731. 3-Point Goals: 4-10, .400 (Anderson 2-3, Harris 2-4, Brogdon 0-3). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 1 (Mitchell). Turnovers: 8 (Brogdon 2, Mitchell 2, Perrantes, Nolte, Anderson, Harris). Steals: 5 (Harris 3, Anderson, Mitchell). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .449, FT .750. 3-Point Goals: 10-22, .455 (Sulaimon 4-5, Hood 2-6, Parker 2-7, Dawkins 1-1, Cook 1-3). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 3 (Plumlee, Parker, Jefferson). Turnovers: 10 (Cook 3, Jefferson 2, Parker 2, Thornton, Sulaimon). Steals: 5 (Sulaimon 2, Jefferson 2, Thornton). Technical Fouls: None.
A—9,314. Officials—Les Jones, Mike Eades, Pat Driscoll.