All Mike Krzyzewski could do after Duke’s 84-79 overtime loss was shake his head.
His Blue Devils had played “beautiful” basketball, to use one of his favorite descriptors, for 25 minutes, building a 16-point lead. And then it all started to unravel as the Blue Devils stopped hitting shots.
“Our guys, in short period of time were so well prepared and so together, and then, boom,” the Duke coach said. “I’m telling you, by not hitting shots…”
He stopped for five seconds as he shook his head.
“It affects a younger team more. And it did today.”
It’s the first time Duke has blown such a lead since losing 65-64 in overtime to Pittsburgh in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 20, 2007. The Panthers trailed by as many as 16 in the first half and 13 in the second.
Thursday, fifth-seeded Duke led by 16 points, 58-42, with 14:57 left in the game against the fourth-seeded Fighting Irish despite intense foul trouble in the post. The Blue Devils next basket came on a Matt Jones 3 with 11:08 left.
And then Duke went until 3:37 – a span of seven minutes, 31 seconds – until its next point, a Derryck Thornton free throw. By that point, Duke’s lead was down to 66-62.
There were eight Duke misses from the field in that stretch and four missed free throws from Marshall Plumlee, who was clearly negatively impacted by the Phantom of the Opera-esque mask he had to wear to protect his broken nose.
And as the misses started to pile up for Duke, the Blue Devils started dragging them to the defensive end of the floor, letting offense affect defense. The increased thinking led to a decrease in talking on the floor, further diminishing the defensive returns. And then the mental state of the Blue Devils drifted to a dangerous place.
“You start hoping,” Krzyzewski said. “You hope they’re going to miss instead of making them miss. If you’re hoping they’re going to miss, then you’re not going to rebound the ball because they did miss.
“If we make one or two plays there, then we have a chance to hold them off.”
Rebounding was increasingly more difficult for Duke due to major early foul trouble for Plumlee. The redshirt senior had three fouls with 8:30 left in the first half and picked up his fourth foul with 9:57 left in the second half. Krzyzewski was forced to play Chase Jeter and rarely-used reserve Sean Obi for a combined 10 minutes in the first half, and both played well. Remarkably, Duke ended the first half on a 13-2 run to take a 45-37 lead into the break.
The Fighting Irish turned the ball over six times in the final five minutes of the first half and opened the second with three in the first three minutes. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as Duke took advantage of the sloppiness to build that 16-point lead.
“Today was the ultimate back’s against the wall,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “But I’m not really surprised cause when they get believing and talking and running themselves, they’re pretty darn good.”
V.J. Beachem hit three second-half 3s and one in overtime to help Notre Dame bomb back into the game, and Zach Auguste took advantage of Duke’s foul trouble in the post to the tune of 19 points and 22 rebounds.
By the overtime tip, Duke was out of gas and was outscored 14-9 in the extra period.
Brandon Ingram picked up his fourth foul with 12:38 left, and Jeter had his with10:13 remaining in the game. A Beachem 3 with 6:45 left cut the deficit to 64-56, and Notre Dame came to life. Luke Kennard lost the ball on the ensuing possession, and Bonzie Colson finished with a transition lay-up to force a Krzyzewski timeout.
Notre Dame took its first lead of the second half, 67-66, on a Beachem 3 with2:35 left. Ingram answered right back with a 3, but another Beachem 3 tied the game at 70-70 with 1:07 remaining, and Duke missed its final four shots from the field in regulation. The Irish just had one in that span.
Duke, out of gas with its short rotation playing two games in as many days, never led in overtime. Extra rest before the NCAA tournament won’t be the worst thing for the Blue Devils, but they sure did manage to lose in particularly excruciating fashion.
“Look, we got better while we were here, which is what we wanted to do. But those six-to-eight minutes, we were really young,” Krzyzewski said. “Next week we can’t be that, or else that’s it.”