Four fabulous freshmen led Duke and Coach K to a fifth national title.
The Blue Devils won the NCAA men’s basketball championship in a thrilling title contest on Monday in Indianapolis, defeating a tough Wisconsin team 68-63.
Duke freshmen guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen led the Blue Devils with 23 and 16 points, respectively. National freshman of the year Jahlil Okafor had 10 points despite spending most of the second half on the bench. Duke’s fourth prized freshman Justise Winslow scored 11 points.
“My team had great grit and determination. Our defense down the stretch was magnificent.,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “I don’t know how you can be any better than we were down the stretch.”
Jones had 19 points in the second half as the Blue Devil guards got more aggressive in driving to the basket. Duke ended up with 10 more points from the free throw line even after Wisconsin only committed two fouls in the first half. With the Duke guards dribbling hard into the lane more, the Badgers had 13 second-half fouls.
“We just didn’t get it done offensively,” Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser said. “We fouled too much the second half. They were just driving it hard.”
The national title is the fifth for Krzyzewski, moving him ahead of the late Adolph Rupp into second place among Division I men’s coaches. It is also the fifth for the Duke program, tying it with Indiana and North Carolina for third most NCAA championships.
Wisconsin was sparked by national player of the year Frank Kaminsky, who scored 21 points and had 12 rebounds. Nigel Hayes chipped in 13 points while Sam Dekker added 12, but shot poorly from the field.
“He just was off with his outside shot,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said of Dekker. “We all would have liked to have seen one or two of those go down, but they didn’t. And that happens in games.”
The first half was tight, though Duke briefly took a six-point lead midway through the period, before Wisconsin fought back. There were 13 lead changes in the first 20 minutes.
Wisconsin took a nine-point lead in the second half but missed most of its shots down the stretch while Jones and Allen brought Duke back.
From sub to star
Going into the Final Four, Allen was the forgotten freshman from the top recruiting class in the nation. He had only four games all season with 10 or more points. He had nine points in the NCAA tournament.
But with Duke down by nine points with 13:23 left in the season, the 6-foot-4 Allen became unstoppable. He outscored Wisconsin 8-3 to give Duke the confidence it needed.
Allen maintained his own confidence through practicing against the first teamers.
“We push each other in practice because we know that’s what’s going to make us better. So, I mean, that was big preparation for me to be in this moment,” he said.
And while one of those starters, senior Quinn Cook, only had six points, his three-point shooting ability opened up space for Allen to go hard to the rim.
“Grayson put us on his back. We went to him kind of exclusively because of his ability to drive and penetrate. And he did, he finished,” Coach K said.
Allen didn’t even play when the Blue Devils downed the Badgers in December. They’ll go home wishing they hadn’t seen him on Monday either.
Cameron goes crazy
There isn’t a better place to watch a college basketball game than Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Duke campus. Even if the team isn’t there, apparently.
CNN affiliate WRAL reported thousands of Duke fans came to the longtime home of the Blue Devils to watch the title game.
After the close victory, students ran out to the West Campus Quad and lit a huge bonfire using benches.
“This is a moment we’ll never forget,” one said.
There were no initial reports of any arrests.
Wisconsin committed 15 fouls Monday night. All but two came in the second half.
Ryan was upset but wouldn’t directly criticize the officiating, though one reporter seemingly wanted him to do that.
“You can’t say anything about the officiating. C’mon. Are you trying to set me up? So you want to reword that or… What are you saying?” he said at the postgame news conference.
Just minutes earlier he told a CBS reporter in the hallway outside the locker room: “It’s just a shame that it had to be played that way.”
By that he meant that Duke had defended Wisconsin with more body contact than any other opponent.
One call particularly irked him during the game, when Jones was fouled on a drive and made a free throw to cap a three-point play that cut the Badgers’ lead to one. Ryan felt Jones caused the contact.
“We practice in our practices where if an offensive player jumps into you, we always call it on the offensive player. It’s just what we do,” he said. “So there were some situations where obviously our guys felt they were in position. I’m sure (Duke) felt they were in the rights. Both teams are always going to feel that there’s a question or two. So it’s just the way the game’s played.”
It seemed like bad news at the time
Duke fans were rightfully concerned when Okafor went to the bench in each half with foul trouble. Duke’s leading scorer on the season — and a likely top pick in this year’s NBA Draft — was also needed to help stop Kaminsky.
With him out, Duke was in trouble, right? Not this time.
Two things happened. Duke’s Amile Jefferson was part of a terrific defensive effort, and Okafor was fresh for the final minutes.
“In some respects the foul trouble may have helped us a little bit because I got some gritty guys in there in combinations that we didn’t have on the court very much this year,” Krzyzewski said. “Our defense down the stretch was magnificent.”
Jefferson, who had zero points, said he just concerned himself with making positive plays on defense.
“We have guys that can score, amazing talent. So when I’m out there, I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help our guys,” he said.
Okafor had six points early and four big points late. Ryan pointed to the rest he got while on the bench.
“He’s a great player. We knew we had to get him off the court. Just tried to do whatever we could to stop him,” Kaminsky said. “(But he) came alive at the end.”
Great game, great tournament, great ‘Moment”
For many people, one of the highlights of March Madness is “One Shining Moment,” the video that wraps up the tournament.
Judging by the reviews on Twitter, this year’s version was just as good as the tournament, which was one of the best in years.
Bleacher Report says the 2015 version was “just as magical as years past.”
By Steve Almasy