Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game at North Carolina was never in doubt on Saturday, as the No. 9 Blue Devils poured it on early and never stopped in an 87-67 victory that granted them sole possession of first-place in the ACC standings. Freshman wing AJ Griffin led the way with 27 points for the Blue Devils (19-3, 9-2 ACC) as Krzyzewski improved to 50-46 all-time against Duke’s arch rival.
The win ensures that Coach K will end his coaching career with a winning record against the Tar Heels. Had Duke lost, it was possible that UNC could sweep the regular season series, win a postseason game against Duke and send Krzyzewski out with a .500 record in the rivalry. But any notion of that quickly dissipated as Duke opened up an 11-point lead in the opening minutes.
“Our guys really played well tonight, “Krzyzewski said. “We beat a really good and hot team. It was a great atmosphere. I thought we started out so well, and we really won the first twelve minutes of the half.”
Duke will now return to Cameron Indoor Stadium to host Virginia on Monday night after three straight road games. With every game that passes, Krzyzewski’s final home game as coach — March 5 against UNC — draws closer, and the anticipation builds.
As Krzyzewski coaches his 42nd and final season at Duke before handing the program over to associate head coach Jon Scheyer, we will update this piece with the latest tributes — and tribulations — from the farewell tour of a coaching legend.
How to watch Duke vs. Virginia live
Date: Monday, Feb. 7 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Cameron Indoor Stadium — Durham, North Carolina
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Winning big at UNC
There were no plaques, polite golf claps, video montages or other commemorative gestures as Krzyzewski coached his final game at the Dean Smith Center on Feb. 5. Instead, the Tar Heels’ fans booed as he was introduced in a reminder of just how bitter the Duke-UNC rivalry is. The Blue Devils responded by laying an 87-67 whooping on UNC that ensured Coach K will end his coaching career with a winning record against Duke’s arch rival. AJ Griffin led the way with a career-high 27 points. With first-year UNC coach Hubert Davis coaching his first game in the rivalry, it means that Krzyzewski’s tenure has now touched the tenures of five different North Carolina coaches. Davis will get at least one more shot at Coach K when the teams meet again at Duke on March 5 in the regular-season finale for both. For a look back at some the rivalry’s top moments from Krzyzewski’s tenure, check out this link.
Beating Notre Dame, preparing for UNC
Following a 57-43 win at Notre Dame on Jan. 31 that improved the Blue Devils to 18-3 (8-2 ACC), Duke turned its attention to preparing for its first game with North Carolina. The Tar Heels won both meetings between the programs last season, which sent legendary UNC coach Roy Williams into retirement on a positive note within the parameters of the storied rivalry. The difference was that Williams did not announce his retirement until after the season. Krzyzewski is on what amounts to a farewell tour, and it ratchets up the hype for his final trip to the Dean Dome. The reception should be a bit more cool than the one he received at Notre Dame from Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey, who was an assistant at Duke under Coach K from 1987 to 1995.
Denny Crum greets Coach K
Legendary former Louisville coach Denny Crum presented Krzyzewski with a customized Louisville Slugger baseball bat and a bottle of bourbon featuring Krzyzewski’s face before the Cardinals and Blue Devils squared off on Jan. 29. Louisville also gave Duke all it could handle on the court before Coach K’s squad escaped with a 74-65 victory. With Trevor Keels out of the lineup once again due to a leg injury, a big game from fellow freshman AJ Griffin helped propel Duke to the win. Griffin scored 22 points and hit all five of his 3-point attempts.
Blue Devils bounce back without Trevor Keels
Duke responded to a Jan. 18 loss at Florida State by knocking off Syracuse 79-59 on Jan. 22 in Coach K’s last time hosting friend and longtime coaching rival Jim Boeheim from Syracuse. The Blue Devils’ next game featured a bit more drama, though. Clemson staged a valiant upset bid before Duke closed strong for a 71-69 victory on Jan. 25 that improved its home winning streak against the Tigers to 20 games. Paolo Banchero led the Blue Devils with 19 points while sophomore center Mark Williams contributed a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Banchero’s made shot with 10 seconds left put Duke up 71-67 and helped cement the outcome. Missing for the second straight game was freshman guard Trevor Keels, who was injured in the Florida State loss. Sophomore point guard Jeremy Roach re-entered the starting lineup in Keels’ place and amassed 18 assists vs. just two turnovers in the wins over Syracuse and Clemson.
FSU honors Coach K and hands Duke a loss
Florida State honored Krzyzewski before the Seminoles hosted the No. 6 Blue Devils on Jan. 18 by announcing a donation to the Emily K Center. The Seminoles’ fans also gave him a pregame standing ovation as he made his final trip to the Donald L. Tucker Center as Duke’s head coach. But the applause and the donation to the philanthropic organization near the Duke campus named in honor of Krzyzewski’s mother were the extent of the pleasantries. Once the ball was tipped, FSU turned tenacious and used a decisive edge in points off turnovers and second-chance points to secure a 79-78 overtime victory. Duke will have a chance for revenge on Feb. 19 at Duke in what could be the last great battle between Coach K and FSU’s own legendary coach Leonard Hamilton.
Coach K out sick
Just hours before a Jan. 12 game at Wake Forest, Duke announced that Krzyzewski would miss the game because of a virus unrelated to COVID-19. In his absence, Jon Scheyer was tabbed acting head coach. Considering that Scheyer is taking over for Krzyzewski after this season, the game set up as a preview of what’s ahead for the program. It brought an encouraging result as the Blue Devils outlasted the Demon Deacons 76-64 behind a combined 46 points from Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin. He returned on Jan. 15 for Duke’s win over NC State as the Blue Devils got a combined 40 points from front court players Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams.
First home loss
The Blue Devils lost 76-74 at home to Miami on Jan. 8. It was their first home loss of the season. A Kameron McGusty jumper put the Hurricanes ahead 75-74 with 20 seconds left, and Duke missed three potential go-ahead shots from there, including a 3-point miss from Trevor Keels as the final buzzer sounded. Coach K pointed to turnovers as a chief issue in the game as the Blue Devils turned it over 17 times, as opposed to Miami which committed just five turnovers.
COVID-19 pause and Devoe drama
Duke began ACC play with a 76-65 home win over Virginia Tech on Dec. 22 but then a speed bump. 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.
The pause didn’t seem to bother the Blue Devils too much as they knocked off the Yellow Jackets 69-57 in their first game back. The game featured some extracurricular drama as Krzyzewski and Georgia Tech star Michael Devoe exchanged words late in the second half after Devoe pointed at Coach K and the Duke bench following a basket that prompted a Duke timeout.
“He said ‘you don’t know who you’re talking to,'” Devoe recalled of his exchange with Krzyzewski. “But I was just trying to compete with them. That’s all there was. So I guess he took it the wrong way. But me as a competitor, I want to beat Duke.”
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.
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.
More on Coach K’s final season
- Duke makes sure Coach K’s farewell tour starts off on a high note with impressive opening win vs. Kentucky
- Whether Duke’s succession plan is successful will be decided later, but Jon Scheyer is off to a great start
- How Jon Scheyer rose from Duke ‘special assistant’ to Mike Krzyzewski’s successor in eight years