June 20, 2021

Duke men’s basketball establishes gritty identity to cap emotional 48-hour stretch

Mike Krzyzewski is talking to the Cameron Crazies again.

No, there was no shouting tirade at halftime, and the Duke head coach swears it isn’t for ‘selfish’ reasons. He doesn’t even think the fans were bad. Krzyzewski just wanted more from the Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd of 9,314 Monday night.

Fresh off of as gritty and impressive of a 48-hour stretch of any team in all of college basketball, Krzyzewski was just looking for his team’s energy to be matched.

“We’ve been spoiled to watch Zion [Williamson], [Jayson] Tatum, [Marvin] Bagley III and all these guys play, and that’s not what we have.” Krzyzewski said. “We have an old fashioned team that needs for everybody to be hungry. [Duke fans] are accustomed to outstanding, and this team is trying to be.”

For as iconic as a rivalry buzzer-beater can be, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils’ 70-65 win against No. 8 Florida State was an even bigger step for Krzyzewski’s young squad, and it showed as the long-time head coach bubbled with pride postgame. After the emotional overtime victory against North Carolina and just one day of rest, Duke used pure grit and toughness against an extremely physical top-10 opponent.

“A real player doesn’t run plays, a real player makes plays,” Krzyzewski emphasized. “You run plays for people who aren’t players. That doesn’t mean you don’t run them for players too, but players make plays, and our guys are making plays, they’re making really good plays. Damn, am I happy about these guys.”

Tied with Duke in the ACC standings coming into the night, the Seminoles were as big a test as any from a talent and physical standpoint. However, the Blue Devils came out with a rocking energy needed in a heavyweight ACC fight.

“It’s a huge thing for us,” freshman forward Wendell Moore Jr. said. “Coaches preaching that this whole 48 hours is kind of like a tournament thing for us, like playing a game Friday and come back and play Sunday. We knew we won the game Saturday, we knew we had a huge game coming up, so everything was next play.”

As for Moore, Saturday’s heroics didn’t suddenly turn the Charlotte native into another Duke star. There were still bumps in the road, like committing four of the Blue Devils 20 turnovers, but Moore once again symbolized Duke’s winning effort Monday, producing countless gritty plays.

“Wendell [Moore], who, I don’t think any of you in the audience have had a winning shot in front of 21,000 people against your arch rival, but if you’re 18, how you handle that can be pretty tough. He had a game like a kid that’s 18 until the second half, and then that play he made in the full court just was spectacular,” Krzyzewski said.

Slow starts have been an issue for the Blue Devils since the turn of the new decade, and an early hole would have doomed Duke from the start if it weren’t for an unmatched defensive intensity. Florida State missed its first eight shots from the floor, most of them contested jumpers, as the Blue Devils played with a burning fire not seen in the games against the Tar Heels and Boston College.

“It’s definitely a big thing when we can get out quick like that because there’s been games in the past where we haven’t had a hot start,” junior guard Alex O’Connell said. “You put a pretty big emphasis on that and tonight just making sure that we come out hard and don’t start slow. I think that helped us down the stretch in being able to finish the game out like we did.”

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