R.J. Barrett said he’s watched replays of the final minute of last week’s loss to Gonzaga at the Maui Invitational over and over and over again.
Barrett kept driving down the lane and Gonzaga kept blocking his shots. When it happened with one second left, Gonzaga escaped with an 89-87 win that led to the Bulldogs replacing Duke as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.
Almost immediately, social media began buzzing with criticism for Barrett, Duke’s super-talented freshman who kept driving into a crowded lane and not passing to open teammates.
The Blue Devils do their best to insulate themselves from such things.
But Mike Krzyzewski heard about it enough and, following Tuesday night’s 90-69 win over Indiana at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Hall of Fame coach came to his players’ defense.
“Duke fans,” Krzyzewski said, “just cut it out, man. These kids aren’t perfect. My kid wasn’t playing hero ball. He was playing winner’s ball. If you don’t like following him, then don’t follow us. I’ll go war with my guys.”
With Duke down by two points in the Maui title game to Gonzaga, both Barrett and Jack White missed point blank shots at the rim with 32 seconds to play. Krzyzewski said replays showed fouls could have been called that led to their misses. But he also said even if the fouls were called that wouldn’t have guaranteed a Duke win.
Regardless of all that, he steadfastly stands by his players for their decisions late in what’s been No. 3 Duke’s lone loss this season.
“He had the heart to do that,” Krzyzewski said of Barrett. “Jack had the heart to get the rebound. We lose. I’ll lose with them. Let’s get real about this whole thing. Let’s not get spoiled. We’ve got four 19-year-old kids trying to bust their ass to learn how to play and have a lot of pressure on them. Let them grow.”
Javin DeLaurier, one of Duke’s two captains along with White, said no matter what was said on social media about Barrett, the team stood by him.
“Right after the game we talked,” DeLaurier said. “I told him whatever people are saying about you on social media, no one in our locker room feels that way. We’ll got to war with you any day. You make that play nine times out of 10. We’re not stressing. We’re not accusing you of being anything but a great basketball player.”
Tuesday night’s game with Indiana in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge marked Duke’s first game since that loss to Gonzaga. The team traveled back to Durham on an overnight chartered flight that left Hawaii on Thanksgiving and got them home Friday morning.
Krzyzewski said his team is still adjusting from the long trip. Monday marked the Blue Devils’ best practice, he said, but the coaches didn’t want to push the players more to wear them out the day before a game.
Barrett turned in a solid game, scoring 22 points while grabbing nine rebounds in 24 minutes against the Hoosiers. He didn’t play more because he fouled out, the first time that’s happened to him this season.
Not only worn out from the trip, Barrett is battling a cold that had him coughing and hacking through a post-practice interview session with reporters on Monday.
In addition, he was dealing with the shots he didn’t make late in the Gonzaga game that led to Duke falling a basket short.
“Watching that last play, I’ve watched it 100 times probably,” Barrett said. “I could have pulled up there at the elbow, maybe. But you live and you learn.”
Barrett and his roommate, fellow freshman star Zion Williamson, were once again the main producers for Duke on Tuesday night against Indiana.
Barrett scored his 22 points on a team-high 18 shots. Williamson took 15 shots, making 11 of them while leading Duke with 25 points.
Williamson had four assists while Barrett had one assist against a team-worst five turnovers.
Entering the Indiana game, Barrett led the team in shot attempts (125) with Williamson second with 75. That gap closed some after the Indiana game and that’s by design.
Krzyzewski said the team has worked on making decisions that get Williamson the ball a bit more.
“After the trip we’ve done some things to get him the ball more,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s just the evolution of your team. So we were able to do that tonight.”
A hip condition kept freshman point guard Tre Jones from participating in Duke’s three August exhibition games in Canada. While he’s started and played every regular-season game for Duke, Jones is still dealing with discomfort there.
Krzyzewski said it has flared up again and kept Jones from being a full participant in practices.
It didn’t stop the freshman point guard from pacing Duke again against Indiana. He scored 15 points with eight assists while playing 26 turnover-free minutes.
Having already played three teams currently ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams, winning twice, Duke enters a softer portion of its schedule.
Stetson comes to Cameron on Saturday night at 7 p.m., followed by Hartford on Dec. 5 with games against Ivy League schools Yale (Dec. 8) and Princeton (Dec. 18) bracketing final exam week.
The Blue Devils are learning, growing and evolving while they are winning. Krzyzewski is good with that and he made it clear he thinks the team’s fans should be too.