Thursday, January 20, 2022

Coach K’s farewell tour: Duke hosts Georgia Tech as Blue Devils return from COVID-19 pause

Mike Krzyzewski’s legendary coaching career is officially in its final calendar year as the No. 2 Blue Devils prepare to begin the 2022 portion of their slate with a home game against Georgia Tech on Tuesday night. Duke (11-1, 1-0 ACC) has been off since Dec. 22, when it opened league played with a 76-65 win over Virginia Tech. Since then, the Blue Devils have dealt with COVID-19 issues that kept them from playing two league games as scheduled last week.

“COVID hit our program extremely hard,” Krzyzewski told reporters. “It went through most of our players and is still finishing up. It went through a lot of our staff, including our support staff.”

The win over the Hokies turned into a freshman party as a trio of underclassmen combined for 35 of Duke’s 44 second half points in an impressive victory over one of the team’s top challengers in the conference. Setting the pace for the Blue Devils was Paolo Banchero, who scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half to lead Duke in scoring. Fellow standout freshmen Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin provided key contributions as well.

Griffin has been particularly improved as of late, averaging 12 points per game on 50% 3-point shooting over the Blue Devils’ last four contests. Remarkably, the former five-star small forward has turned the basketball over just three times in 168 minutes entering the Georgia Tech game.

Krzyzewski is retiring after this season, which will be his 42nd as Duke’s coach, and handing the program over to his assistant and former Duke star Jon Scheyer. As Krzyzewski’s final season continues, we will update this piece with the latest tributes — and tribulations — from the farewell tour of a coaching legend. 

How to watch Duke vs. Georgia Tech live

Date: Tuesday, Jan. 4 | Time: 9 p.m. ET

Location: Cameron Indoor Stadium  — Durham, North Carolina

TV: ACC Network | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)

COVID-19 foils start of ACC play

Duke began ACC play with a 76-65 home win over Virginia Tech on Dec. 22 behind a huge second half from its key trio of freshmen. Paolo Banchero, Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin combined for 35 of the Blue Devils’ 44 second half points as Duke overcame a 36-32 halftime deficit in the victory. It was a good start to conference action, but then came an unwelcome disruption.

As much of college basketball dealt with scheduling disruptions due to COVID-19 issues, the Blue Devils were among those hit by the virus. That kept them from playing their second and third league games as scheduled against Clemson and Notre Dame, meaning Duke’s second ACC game didn’t come until Jan. 4 against Georgia Tech.

Returning from break

Duke had a two-week hiatus between games spanning the first two weeks of December amid the final exam period for the university. But it returned with a 103-62 win over South Carolina State on Dec. 14 and followed that with a 92-67 victory over Appalachian State on Dec. 16. It was supposed to play Loyola (Maryland) on Dec. 18, but the meeting was canceled because of a COVID-19 issue within the Loyola program. Replacement opponent Cleveland State also had to cancel on Duke because of the same issue, which left the Blue Devils scrambling to find a third potential opponent for the slot. Elon agreed to play on short notice, giving Duke one final tune-up before ACC play.

The wins over South Carolina State and Appalachian State were two of the best games yet for freshman forward AJ Griffin. He made 5 of 9 attempts from 3-point range over those contests to bolster the team’s perimeter shooting outlook after it struggled in that facet during the first month of the season.

Short stay at No. 1

Just one day after rising to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 on the heels of a thrilling win over Gonzaga, Duke dropped a 71-66 decision at Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Buckeyes outscored Duke 41-23 in the second half and roared back from a 15-point deficit behind a 20-point night from sophomore big man Zed Key. Wendell Moore Jr. led the Blue Devils with 17, and Paolo Banchero added 14. But Banchero struggled in the second half, going 0-for-7 from the field in the second half.

Knocking off the Zags, rising to No. 1

Duke improved to 7-0 with an 84-81 win over No. 1 Gonzaga on Nov. 26 in front of a crowd of 20,389 at T-Mobile Arena. It was the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game in Nevada, and they were treated to a thriller. Paolo Banchero scored 20 points in the first half before dealing with cramps in the second half and going quiet. Wendell Moore Jr. picked up the slack by scoring 16 of his 20 points in the second half.

The victory improved Krzyzewski to 7-11 all-time against No. 1 ranked teams, and it catapulted the Blue Devils to No. 1 in the new set of rankings released three days later.

Getting ready for Gonzaga

Duke easily won games against Lafayette and The Citadel on Nov. 19 and Nov. 22 as it prepared to face No. 1 Gonzaga on Nov. 26. The Blue Devils beat Lafayette 88-55 behind a 23-point outing from Wendell Moore Jr. Duke beat The Citadel 107-81 behind a combined 50 points from Moore and Paolo Banchero. There was a scary moment in the Citadel game, when Bulldogs’ coach Duggar Baucom collapsed on the court in the first half. He stayed overnight at Duke University Hospital and was released the afternoon after the game.

DWI charge for grandson

An otherwise sterling start to Krzyzewski’s final season hit a speed bump in the early morning hours of Nov. 14, when Duke walk-on Michael Savarino, who is Krzyzewski’s grandson, was arrested for suspicion of DWI. Complicating matters, Duke star freshman Paolo Banchero was a passenger in the vehicle and was cited for aiding and abetting DWI. But while Savarino was suspended, Banchero was not held out of any game action, as Krzyzewski explained “it’s two different situations.”

“Headlines might make it look like it’s the same,” he said. “It’s not. I think the decisions we made are in conjunction with our authorities, my superiors.”

West Point flashback

Duke played host to Army West Point on Nov. 12 in its home opener as part of the Duke Veterans Day Weekend Showcase. The Blue Devils won 82-56, but the game carried special significance because Army is where Krzyzewski both played and first served as a head coach. Between his four years as a student at Army and five as the coach, Krzyzewski spent nearly a decade of his young adult life in West Point. Army explored his history with the program in a special tribute video released before the game.

Garden party

Krzyzewski’s final season began on a big stage, with the Blue Devils beating Kentucky at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 9 in the Champions Classic. The venue is one of Krzyzewski’s favorites, and it offered a parting gift to the legendary coach. Krzyzewski is now 34-11 all-time at Madison Square Garden, and that record will remain unchanged unless the Blue Devils end up playing in the NIT, which would be nothing short of a disaster.

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