The week was bizarre and the game was far from what any Duke fan wanted in Coach K’s final game in storied Cameron Indoor Stadium but fairy tales aren’t real life. Obviously fans attach a certain amount emotion to it but one has to separate the outcome of the game from what the real sadness and angst is about. It comes from this being one in a series of “lasts” for the best coach ever to do it in college basketball. Those are the emotions that I feel. This game was never going to be what we wanted. Putting that sort of pressure on a group of 18-19 years olds was never going to end too well. Wins and losses come and go and if you think you feel sad or some type of way then imagine the heavy burden of having had to play in and ultimately lose that game. It’s very easy for us to denigrate team and players and vomit our own emotions all over social media but the worst that happens to us is we have to hear about it from rival fans. I’d implore you to think before you say anything and realize that no matter how hard it is for you it’s harder for them.
This was arguably the most pressure packed game any Duke team has ever faced. With the palpable history of Duke basketball literally bearing down on them and an entire week full of distractions – a circus – it was going to be a tough mountain to climb. There was a lack of focus that seemed there from the start and a tightness to how this team played that, for me, was wholly expected.
Coach K noted in his presser that this game was not about adjustments or X’s and O’s and I fully agree with that sentiment. Defensively Duke did not communicate, they were out of position and lacked the verve that they’d shown in the past couple of weeks. Some of it was Dukes lack of execution but a good amount of it was North Carolina playing well defensively and offensively. Duke’s AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels were shut down by UNC and factored very little in the game whereas UNC, even with a short bench, got major contributions across the board. Carolina played loose and free and never got rattled. Duke could not duplicate that feat and failed to meet and match UNC’s energy.
I privately wondered if winning the ACC Regular Season “title” before the UNC game was perhaps a net negative. Was that even more of a distraction? Who’s to say. I think this loss is less of a head scratcher than Miami or Florida State. Part of me thinks that perhaps K saw it coming with how animated he was early in the game, he saw something in his team that perhaps he didn’t like. There’s no way to really know any of this – just thinking aloud.
The worrisome part of this loss is what does it do to the confidence of the team? Is this a teachable moment? Is there something in all this that will help this team level up? Coach K seems to think so. There are two trajectories, two paths – upward and onward or a downward spiral. There is still more basketball to play but now the Blue Devils are once again fighting against human nature and the possible letdown of this significant moment.
DUKE HEAD COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI
“Carolina played great. They played better than we did. Hubert [Davis] had them so prepared. They didn’t play well against us the last time, and their program, like ours, is built on a lot of pride. They showed that today in coming here and really playing a solid 40 minutes against us. It started with defense. Their guards we couldn’t keep in front of us and [Armando] Bacot has been player of the year in our conference, and he showed that again today. They’re a really good team and they played a lot better than we did today. I felt that I was worried about a few things going into the game. One, them because they’re good. Also, we had just played the three road games in six days, and we won the regular season. When that happens you just don’t win a game, you win a culmination of games so it’s an accomplishment. Then you have this game, which is like its own entity, and we were never able to move to that level, and that’s on me to do that. Then the last few days have been really good, and it’s been like a celebration of our program and because I’m stopping coaching it’s kind of like a celebration of me, which I don’t like that, but we talked about a whole bunch of things. Basically, we’ve been living in a penthouse the last few days with room service and everyone’s saying nice things. We didn’t play hungry today and I understand how this can happen. And Carolina could’ve helped us by not being so good, but they didn’t. They were that good. Even if we were ready, we may not have beaten them today because they were that good. For that we need to move on. Really, Xs and Os questions are not relevant today because Xs and Os that we did would not have, I hate to use the native term, but keep the ship afloat. Our ship was going to sink today no matter what Xs and Os. As far as afterwards, and seeing so many of my former player, it’s beautiful. The honors from alumni, the athletic department, I’d forgotten my high school numbers because it had been so long. I said, ‘Well who’s 44?’ and they said, ‘That’s you.’ That was good. Obviously, the best thing is to have those scholarships in our family’s name, and for me to have my whole family here, for my 10 grandkids to witness the love that this community has given me and my family. It’s so good, and it’s time to move on. I want to put this away, the regular season. Now we’re in the 0-0 part of our season and we’ll be that twice. We’ll be that right now until next Sunday or before and then next Sunday we’ll be that again. Hopefully the lessons that we learned from playing 31 games, especially this last one, will help us in both of those situations.”
On having meetings with himself:
“The meetings with myself were great because myself listened to me. It’s the meetings I had with my team that didn’t work. I thought the staff and I did a good job. We weren’t able to have two hard days of practice. We had only one, and that’s the day before a game. That’s on me. I should have done, looking back, no matter what I should’ve had Thursday set a tone better. Instead of trying to get past the past I should’ve set the tone for the future, and that’s part of leadership and that’s part of choice. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve made a different choice. It sounds like I’m really being Catholic to them, going to confession.”
On his impending retirement:
“It’s been a long year and a really good year. When I met with President Price and told him that I would like to stay for one more year, I wanted to let him know that I was already thinking if it was in his plan to still have me for that year, that I still wanted to announce it during the spring, so that the program could move on while I was here for that one year. I thought that was a good way of succession. When they decided who they wanted as their coach it worked out great, and I told Jon and the guys ‘You guys go out and recruit all summer. I’m going to know this team. I’m going to dive in this team deeper that I’ve been able to because you have to go out and recruit all the time.’ So, I know my guys, and I wanted it to be a really good coaching job, not a retirement year, and to stay hungry, and I think I have. I have and I will until this is done, and when this is over anyone who thinks that I’m going to hover around and do anything with the program, you’re wrong. I’m ready to move. Not from Durham, not now, and it won’t impact how I prepare for these next few weeks. It won’t. I’ve done this almost 50 years and I’m not going to let that happen. I didn’t know where we’d lie, I thought we’d be pretty good, and we have been. We’ve been a really good basketball team and we’ve got a chance. We’ve got a chance next week and we’ll have a chance the following week. When it’s done, I’ll be able to walk away and say, ‘We did our job.’ Hopefully that means a really good job. I critique myself as much as you might at different time critique me, which is what you should do, or praise or whatever. I critique myself harder than anybody, and we’ve done a good job. Now we have to learn from this and do another good job. I’ve loved coaching. I’ve loved coaching. This will be not my last game, but my last game at Cameron. It seemed like it was my last game. That was another part. No, it’s not, so many people are saying great things about you, and you have to think it’s not over yet. Now you get a chance to say how crappy we did, which you’re right.”
DUKE JUNIOR FORWARD WENDELL MOORE JR.
“The fact that we lost – that’s always going to be the most disappointing part of it. Really, from start to finish, [North Carolina] kind of out-played us. That’s on me as a captain, as a leader, to really get our guys ready for game like this. It was a big moment, actually, a huge moment this whole week. I feel like we kind of got lost in everything. It’s easy to get lost in it. Even I got lost in it a little bit. For the most part, I felt like we were focused coming into this week.”
“I definitely felt like in the first half we did a great job containing [North Carolina]. And in the second half, they used their middle ball screen really well. We got caught up on some switches and didn’t talk it out, and they got hyped. And we tried to make adjustments just a little too late. They had confidence and a little rhythm getting into it, so a team like that, we’ve just got to be able to stop them early.”
“We all wanted to [win tonight] for Coach [Mike Krzyzewski]. He deserves it. He deserves it more than anybody. He’s given so much to this game, and we wanted the chance to give him something special back. Unfortunately, we didn’t do it tonight, but we’ve got two other opportunities. First, we’re looking ahead to the ACC Tournament. The first game is Thursday, so we’re taking a look at that.”
DUKE FRESHMAN FORWARD PAUL BANCHERO
“Obviously it was a big day for Duke but credit to North Carolina. They played hard and they played really well. We just couldn’t come out on top.”
“[North Carolina] just wouldn’t go away. I think we had some key miscommunications on defense, and that gave them some threes and some easy buckets. That’s how they pulled away. In the heat of the game, I wouldn’t say I was surprised. I mean, I was in the game so I knew what was going on, but it was just disappointing. That’s all I can really say about it. It was disappointing that we lost. They obviously played much better [than in the previous game in Chapel Hill] – much, much better, offensively and defensively. They came ready.”
On what it was like to see all of the former Duke players back in Cameron:
“It was great. The whole experience before the game was great. It was an honor to be around all of them. I was happy that they were there. I wish we could’ve won obviously.”
“We were hungry, I’d say. We just didn’t execute as we should have. It’s kind of been a theme for us at home, losing games like that. On the road and everywhere else, we’ve been hungry. We won’t be playing the NCAA Tournament here [in Cameron], so we look forward to going on the road to Brooklyn for the ACC Tournament and then wherever we are for the NCAA Tournament and making up for it.”
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know this date way back when I first was coming to Duke. Everybody knew that this game was going to come. So it definitely was a little more – it wasn’t just a regular game. It was more than that. It stinks that we lost, but all we can do is go and win out and hopefully win the ACC [Tournament] and an NCAA Championship.”