Through all the injuries, through all the logic that said Harry Giles shouldn’t suit up for Duke this season, he remained steadfast in his work and belief.
It was all for a night like Friday night.
“It was time to step up,” Giles said. “It was time to man up. It’s about everything that happened all year when I wasn’t playing. Everybody is going to get their time, and it’s time to step up and win the game. That was the time right there.”
The 6-10 freshman played 15 minutes when No. 14 Duke knocked off No. 6 North Carolina 93-83 on Friday night in the ACC tournament semifinals. He scored six points, he grabbed seven rebounds and he blocked four shots.
The Blue Devils rallied from 13 points down in the second half to win. Some of the game’s most important moments came when Giles was on the court after redshirt senior forward Amile Jefferson picked up his fourth foul with 9:41 to play.
UNC led 65-63 at that point.
But here came Giles.
“Harry Giles came in and played some of the best basketball I’ve seen all year,” Jefferson said. “He had a block on one end, then a rebound, then an alley-oop on the other end. He dived and knocked the ball away, and we got it. He was just out there leaving his soul, his heart on the floor for his team. I’m so proud of him. He’s becoming and because he’s becoming we are becoming and that is a beautiful thing to say at this point of the season.”
Giles, the nation’s No. 1 recruit last year who was once projected as the No. 1 pick for this summer’s NBA Draft, hasn’t been able to play like that kind of player this season.
He missed his senior season of high school basketball with a torn ACL. He missed the first month of Duke’s season after needing arthroscopic surgery to repair the other knee, which had suffered a torn ACL two years earlier.
Now, he’s a role player for Duke.
“This is definitely something different, most definitely,” Giles said. “But I embrace it.”
He played like it against UNC and its powerful front line. The Tar Heels were close to blowing Duke off the court in the first half as 6-10 senior Kennedy Meeks and 6-9 senior Isaiah Hicks collected easy basket after easy basket.
Those stopped when Duke rallied from a 61-48 deficit.
The score was tied at 70 when Duke, aided greatly by Giles, made its decisive surge.
Frank Jackson hit a driving bank shot and, after a UNC turnover, Luke Kennard’s 3-pointer gave the Blue Devils a 75-70 lead.
Giles rejected ACC player of the year Justin Jackson’s shot attempt in the lane to start a fast break. He finished it with a thunderous slam dunk on an alley-oop pass from Grayson Allen.
“He was great. He was terrific,” Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel said. “He was totally immersed in the team, and he played his butt off. He played with energy. He talked. He was terrific. I’m really happy for him.”
And there was more.
Giles stopped UNC’s next possession by diving on the floor to snare a loose ball after Jackson fumbled it away. When Jackson missed a shot the next time UNC had the ball, Giles looked strong in getting position inside to grab the defensive rebound.
He left the game at the 4:07 mark with Duke up 77-70 when Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski put Jefferson back in the game.
“It was a joy,” Jefferson said. “It was wonderful to see him go out there and be the kind of guy we know he is. Just to leave it out there, to not worry, to just play.”
That’s what Krzyzewski has wanted Giles to do. The injuries caused him to play with a burden on the court. Krzyzewski wanted that to stop.
“Like you’re the most enthusiastic kid I’ve ever been around, and you’re not bringing your enthusiasm,” Krzyzewski said he told Giles. “That was never hurt. But I think you’re not using it. And I said, ‘just be enthusiastic and see what happens,’ and I think he’s done that. Instead of being methodical and trying to think about everything, he’s been more athletic. It’s great. I’m so happy for him. And us too.”
So Duke, which entered Saturday night’s ACC final having won 11 of its last 14 games, has yet another weapon in its growing arsenal.
Giles is glad his time has come, no matter how long it took.
“It’s a roller coaster,” Giles said. “It’s the season and life too. I’ve learned how to handle situations like that up or down. Not playing. But it’s for the team. I can’t let my personal problems ahead of the team. I always want the team to win. I just have to work through what I’m going through and make the most of it.”