The weight of the gratitude Mike Krzyzewski feels for Army, his alma mater, was evident in the corners of his eyes after his Duke team defeated the Black Knights 93-73 Sunday.
“I’ll tell you,” the 1969 U.S. Military Academy graduate said when asked to reflect back, “I wear my wedding ring, and I wear my West Point ring with a Duke stone. I’m getting a little emotional,” Krzyzewski said, as his eyes started to water.
“I love West Point. I love the fact that I had that opportunity. And then I had an opportunity to coach there. One of the reasons that I’m a good coach here is because of my five years there. They’ll always be in my heart, and I’ll always be a West Pointer.”
The win against the Black Knights (5-1) gave Krzyzewski 990 for his career. And it was no gimme – the Black Knights were able to push the tempo and took advantage of lapses in Duke’s transition defense. Guards Dylan Cox (11 points) and Kyle Wilson (19 points, 17 in the first half), in particular, found success moving in a straight line to the basket.
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There was no one player assigned to mark Wilson because of Army’s up-tempo style, which is different from how Duke normally handles its defensive assignments. But because Krzyzewski knew Army would try to get in transition as much as possible, all of the Blue Devils were supposed to be aware of Wilson and forward Tanner Plomb (19 points, 3-of-6 from 3) at all times.
“They came right at us,” Tyus Jones said. “They were aggressive with their drives; they were knocking down open 3s. We got caught up and weren’t communicating as well on switches. That left them with some open 3s, and they can shoot the ball. We have to do a better job of communicating on that.”
For Duke’s defensive issues, there was more than enough going offensively to pace the No. 4 Blue Devils (7-0), and that was even with Justise Winslow mired in foul trouble. Jones recorded the first double-double with 16 points and 10 assists, along with five rebounds and zero turnovers.
Jones shot 4-of-8 from the field after struggling to a 1-of-15 tune in the previous three games. Yes, the Duke coaches showed him film and talked to him about shooting, and, yes, Jones logged extra reps at the gym last week. But still – his greatest gift to this team is as a pass-first point guard and floor leader, and that’s the role he embraces.
“His ego is not defined by shooting, which is really uncommon in today’s day and age,” Krzyzewski said of Jones. “Most kids define themselves by if they hit a shot. He does by how is team is playing. In that way, he is pretty mature.”
It took until midway in the second half for the Blue Devils to put a comfortable distance between them and the Black Knights on the scoreboard, a sight that did fire up pangs of pride in Krzyzewski. Both Krzyzewski and Army coach Zach Spiker used boxing metaphors to describe the game – “for a large chunk of the game, we tried to stay in the center of the ring and deliver some punches,” Spiker said – and in the end, Duke’s talented offense, led by Jones and Jahlil Okafor (21 points), proved to be the difference.
“To see them play like they did, when I’m shaking hands with them – that was me,” Krzyzewski said of the Black Knights. “Expect they were – I’m not saying they’re better. They’re good. And we were really good. We were really good in the 60s. We were a top-20 team two of my three years. Not because of me.
“They’ve got something good going. I’m so happy for them. You can see certain things on tape, but until you experience it and see their grit and their camaraderie – and I see that in my team. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like they cornered the market on it. But we’re developing it with a young team. Playing against them, that helps us.”