Mike Krzyzewski recruited one point guard for three years.
And that player, Tyus Jones, delivered him his fifth national title Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Duke beat Wisconsin 68-63, the mission of the Blue Devils’ freshmen complete.
It wasn’t just Jones’s talent that caught Krzyzewski’s eye. It was his uncanny ability to stay poised when the game was on the line, making the right decisions when most would melt into a pool of nerves.
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Jones, named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, finished with 23 points, and arguably no shot was bigger than his 3-pointer with 1 minute, 24 seconds left, putting Duke ahead 66-58.
His two free throws with 34.9 seconds left gave Duke a cushion with a 68-63 lead.
And there were no extra nerves while he was doing it.
"It's just, you're playing basketball," Jones said on the floor after the game. "You grow up playing basketball, this is what you dream of. That's the moment you dream of when you're a little kid, just stepping up and making a play."
Even after 38 games, Duke still had time for something new. Off nights from Quinn Cook, Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor didn’t equal disaster thanks to the unlikeliest of heroes: freshman Grayson Allen.
Allen didn’t even play during Duke’s 80-70 win against the Badgers in Madison, Wisc, on Dec. 3. And he had 18 points in the Blue Devils’ first five tournament games. But he contributed 16 Monday night.
"The coolest thing about what happened with Grayson, is to start the year, he wasn't playing a lot," assistant coach Jon Scheyer said. "And literally every day, he was the last guy in the gym, putting work in after practice. He started playing a little bit, he was still the last guy in the gym."
A lineup with Amile Jefferson at center – a move that happened for no more than a few minutes all season – and Allen as the primary scoring option was Duke’s choice down the stretch.
"They kept trying to post our guys, and our guys just fought and fought and fought," Krzyzewski said of the small lineup. "We had one of the smallest teams probably in the history of the championship on the court, but not in heart."
Okafor was able to shake off his worst 37 minutes of the season, several of which were spent on the bench, in time to deliver a few key baskets.
Saddled with four fouls, Okafor returned with 3:22 left and converted an inside shot, putting Duke ahead 61-58.
With the shot clock winding down on the other end of the floor, Frank Kaminsky was forced to throw up a prayer that did not hit the rim, giving Duke back possession with 2:38 remaining.
The next possession featured Okafor pulling down an offensive rebound and converting on the second chance, putting the Blue Devils ahead with 63-58 with less than two minutes to play.
The game was fitting for the stage, with the first 20 minutes featuring 13 lead changes and a halftime score of 31-31.
Just as the case has been all season, Duke’s freshmen were not rattled by the bright lights. Every Duke point scored in the second half was scored by a freshmen. And senior captain Quinn Cook was locked in, twice diving into the corners of the Wisconsin end of the floor in attempts to save loose balls.
There were some tense moments for Duke in the first half. Okafor and Winslow both picked up two first-half fouls – Wisconsin had two as a team. The disparity had Mike Krzyzewski and assistant coach Jeff Capel working the refs long into timeouts.
Okafor picked up an offensive foul on Duke’s third offensive possession, as Kaminsky drew the charge. Okafor was able to establish deep posting position on the senior and national player of the year, but Okafor had trouble finishing at the rim – more than he did in any other game this year.
The Blue Devils continued to play solid defense – outside of a stretch late in the first half when Wisconsin scored on six of seven possessions with Winslow on the bench. But they had trouble rebounding misses by Wisconsin as the Badgers collected eight offensive rebounds in the first half, turning them into 11 second-chance points.
Krzyzewski went to his bench often in the first 20 minutes, and Allen contributed six first-half points. On one play, Krzyzewski called an isolation for Allen – quite the display of faith in the last man off the bench.
He certainly turned to him in the second, which started disastrously for Duke.
A quick 7-2 run by Wisconsin within the first 90 seconds prompted a quick timeout by Krzyzewski.
Jones had all six of Duke’s points over the next three minutes, driving into the lane and drawing contact from the defense twice. Okafor picked up his third foul with 16:50 left to play, Duke down 38-35.
It continued to get worse for Duke, as breakdowns on defensive switches started happening more often.
A 6-0 Wisconsin run forced another timeout by Krzyzewski with 13:17 left, Duke trailing 48-39. And then it was Allen who came to Duke’s rescue.
Allen hit a 3 out of that timeout, and then he forced a turnover on the ensuing possession, diving to save a loose ball. Allen scored Duke’s next five points on drives to the basket, cutting the Wisconsin lead to 51-47.
Allen and Jones continued to pace Duke offensively. Okafor, who struggled against Kaminsky all night, left the floor with his fourth foul with 9:18 remaining.
A jump shot by Jones tied to game at 54-all with 7:04 left. It was the first tie since halftime.
A drive by Allen about 90 seconds later gave Duke its first second-half lead. Kaminsky and Dekker quickly answered with baskets of their own.
But it was Jones again with the big shot, making a 3 as he fell to the floor in an attempt to draw a whistle, putting Duke up 59-58 with 4:06 remaining.
"Credit Coach, from day one putting the ball in his hands," Scheyer said. "You look back to that game at Wisconsin, and really we just did the same thing. We went middle ball screen on top of Tyus. We want the ball in his hands. It could be like he's in a gym by himself—you don't think there is 70,000 people in here. He just put us on his back, like he did earlier in the year."
And the year ended with a familiar refrain, as the Blue Devils stood on the podium to receive their trophy.
"I love my team," Krzyzewski said. "I love my team."