It was 22 years ago when legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was first hospitalized for his back issues. Coach K would never return during that 1994-95 season, and the Blue Devils missed the NCAA Tournament. Duke has been to the Big Dance every year since then.
On a snowy Saturday afternoon in Durham, N.C., the Blue Devils’ uber-talented lineup made a convincing case for why history would not repeat itself in their first game without Krzyzewski, who is sidelined for a month due to back surgery. Duke put on an all-around show against Boston College men’s basketball, exploiting its frontcourt advantage, shooting the lights out from downtown, and wreaking havoc on defense in a 93-82 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
But the Eagles (8-8, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) did force interim head coach Jeff Capel to sweat late in the contest, as they scored 11 straight points which coincided with an 0-for-10 shooting stretch for Duke (14-2, 2-1, ACC) with about five minutes left. That combination turned a 20-point Blue Devil lead into just single digits, powered by a huge second half from Jerome Robinson. The Raleigh, N.C., native scored 19 of his 21 points in the final 20 minutes to silence the Duke crowd and give BC hope of an improbable comeback. Although the Blue Devils ultimately killed the rally, the competitive nature of the waning minutes—especially in front of the boisterous Cameron Crazies—gave the young Eagles valuable experience under pressure and proved that this team is different from last year’s squad.
Clearly, Duke is a different beast with unlimited weapons. The Blue Devils had six scorers in double figures, and Luke Kennard wasn’t even one of them. Kennard, Duke’s leading scorer, sat back and let his teammates do most of the work, posting a modest statline of nine points and four rebounds. Rather, it was the supporting cast that did most of the damage against BC. Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, and Amile Jefferson exploited the Blue Devils’ advantage in the frontcourt, backing down their undersized opponents and totaling a combined 45 points.
When the Eagles clogged the paint, Duke owned the perimeter. Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, and Frank Jackson each drained two 3-pointers apiece, showcasing the Blue Devils’ deep talent at the guard position. Duke was particularly hot from beyond the arc in the first half, when it forced 17 turnovers and converted them into open looks in transition. But as the game settled down in the second half and those open looks became more rare, the door opened for a BC comeback.
Ky Bowman looked electric as usual, posting a similar statline to Robinson’s with 19 points, four assists, and three steals. Like Robinson, however, he coughed up five turnovers, allowing the Blue Devils to break open a 19-point halftime lead. A.J. Turner chipped in 13 points and Mo Jeffers added eight points and 12 rebounds, but Duke’s big lead at the break was enough to make up for poor shooting in the second half.
Moral victories are difficult to swallow. Putting up 82 points on the road against one of the best teams in the country should be applauded. But it is also frustrating to think of what might’ve happened had the Eagles limited turnovers in the first half. One thing is for certain, though: That signature BC upset that fans have been waiting years for under head coach Jim Christian might be right around the corner. Christian and his crew of underclassmen just need to put together the effort for a full 40 minutes, or else partial performances like those at Wake and Duke might become commonplace for this program.
Featured Image by AP Photo / Ben McKeown