Duke Grinds Out Title Rematch
Kyrie Irving shines in return to New Jersey.
by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
Butler controlled tempo, made Duke run its entire offense to get baskets and looked like a team ready to pull off an “impossible” upset. The score at half in April was 33-32 Duke; on Saturday it was 33-33.
“Brian Zoubek was here and he said after the ballgame, ‘Coach those first 30 minutes were like the game last year,’ ” said Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game. “I said, ‘Yeah, because that’s how they want to play and that’s how they win. It’s a good way.’ “
Butler wasn’t given much of a shot heading into Saturday’s game. The Bulldogs had already lost to Louisville and Evansville this season and were still looking to make up for the loss of Gordon Hayward.
However, Butler still gave Duke it’s toughest test. For the first 30 minutes, either team could have won. No team led by more than five points in the first half.
“It was a game where if a team could win two or three consecutive possessions, it was going to be huge,” said Krzyzewski.
While Duke’s talent and depth eventually proved to be the difference in an 82-70 victory, Butler did provide a blueprint on how to slow down the Blue Devils’ offense. The Bulldogs limited fast breaks, slowed down their own tempo by using the whole shot clock and clogged the lane to prevent easy scoring opportunities.
Eventually it was Butler’s own foul trouble that led to its demise. Leading 44-42 with 13:04 remaining, Ronald Nored, the team’s best defender, picked up his fourth foul and was forced to exit the game. Duke took the lead on the subsequent free throws and never relinquished it.
Butler may have the best perspective on Duke. It played the Blue Devils at their peak last year and while they are red-hot this season. In the mind of Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens, the addition of Irving makes this team even more dangerous.
“It’s their collective speed,” Stevens said. “When you have those three guys on the perimeter, and then you bring in two guys who don’t miss shots, it’s pretty hard to guard.”
As Stevens learned Saturday, even when you defend Duke for 30 minutes, it takes only those final 10 to bury a team.
Saturday’s matchup had players on both teams excited for the title game rematch, but for Irving, who could only watch the game on television a year ago, this game had a different importance – it was a trip home.
Irving, who grew up in West Orange, NJ, had been looking forward to his team’s trip to the Izod Center for awhile.
“When I landed at Newark Airport I was real excited,” Irving said. “I lived in Jersey. This is where I’m from. Coming back to the Meadowlands, I won a state championship here my junior year. Coming back here feels good.”
Initially, Irving struggled to find his groove. He scored just four points in the first half and picked up two early fouls. The St. Patrick’s graduate might have been a little too amped for his return home.
“I definitely was pressing in the first half a little bit,” Irving said. “I picked those two quick charges up. That was just a mistake on my part being too aggressive and not playing smart. The first half I was really flat myself until I had those two baskets at the end of the half. The second half I wanted to come out aggressive.”
The second half was a different story. Irving controlled the pace, got to the lane at will and scored 17 of his 21 points. His back-to-back three-pointers to take the game from 60-57 to 66-57 essentially sealed the deal.
“Kudos to him for stepping up and making and taking those shots,” Stevens said.
Irving left the game late with a minor toe injury, but Duke had the game in hand at that point. Once again, a lot of the credit falls to the freshman point guard who is quickly continuing the legacy of New Jersey players at the position.
“[Bobby] Hurley, [Jay] Williams and Kyrie all have special qualities,” said Krzyzewski. “Bobby played for his dad [Bob Hurley Sr.] who is one of the great coaches of all time. Bobby was a crazy innovative ball handler. Jason had a knack. When the lights went on he took it to another level. Kyrie is a combination of both of them. He can really shoot the ball, and he’s still learning the point guard position.”
- Duke now comes home after what Krzyzewski called “as tough a two weeks as any team has gone though in the United States.” The Blue Devils traveled to Kansas City, Portland and New Jersey and played two top-10 teams and a defending national runner-up.
- The win for Krzyzewski was No. 876, tying him with Adolph Rupp for third all-time. Said Krzyzewski, who is one behind Rupp in national titles, after the game, “I’d much rather tie him in the other one in April than today.”
- The crowd at the Izod Center was about 90 percent Duke and Irving got the loudest ovation.
- Butler guard Shelvin Mack (15.1 ppg) was forced to the bench with cramps with 12:46 to play. Duke went on a 12-0 run right after.
- Duke sophomore guard Andre Dawkins came off the bench to tally 10 points and eight rebounds. The rebounds led the team and were a career-high. Senior guard Nolan Smith led all scorers with 24 points.