Duke entered Wednesday’s Maui Invitational Championship game against 3rd ranked Gonzaga as the number one team in the county, with the number one recruiting class in the county and the best record in Maui Invitational history. That all changed when the final buzzer rang and the Zags defeated the Blue Devils 89-87.
Despite the loss, Duke is undoubtedly one of the most talented teams in the country, but they’re also one of the youngest. That youth showed early against a veteran Gonzaga team who Coach K said were more emotionally prepared for the matchup.
“I think their experience, I mean they’re really good, obviously Mark’s teams are well coached, but they’re experienced good. They can beat anybody. They started out that way, where I thought we looked young. It’s not that we were tired, because we both played the same amount of games, but I thought emotionally they were more ready than we were. And that’s something that you learn. You have to learn that by being in these situations.”
The Blue Devils were challenged from the very beginning of the game as the Zags shot 64% from the field – including 6-10 from three in the first half. Duke headed to the locker room for halftime trailing the Bulldogs by eight.
The 2nd half started out rough for Duke as Gonzaga scored eight unanswered points after the break, pushing the Blue Devils’ deficit to 16, and then something happened. Spurred by the play of point guard Tre Jones, Duke stepped up their intensity defensively. Shots started falling for the Blue Devils and the Zags started missing.
“His play in the second half sparked the rest of us and we finally started to fight in the last 14 minutes,” Team Captain Javier DeLaurier said of Jones after the game. “Whereas before we had just come to play and we weren’t as emotionally ready as Gonzaga, but the last 14 minutes we played how we’re capable of together with emotion and we just got to do that earlier.”
Duke would get as close as evening the score with under two minutes remaining, but could never get over the hump.
“It’s anybody’s game there right at the end,” Coach K said about the game’s exciting conclusion. “We have a number of moves right at the bucket or right around the bucket where we couldn’t finish or get fouled and that’s really the game right there. We had the ball right by the bucket a few times and couldn’t finish or draw a foul and then — and they won.”
This Blue Devils, and especially, their freshmen phenoms will grow from this loss. But more importantly it will help temper some of the incredible expectations put on them. It’s still very early in the season, but there are national discussions about if this team is the greatest ever, if they could go undefeated and even if they would be an NBA squad. Now that Goliath has taken a fall everyone can chill, but be aware that they could get up even stronger than before…and that’s what the college basketball world should fear.