GREENVILLE, S.C. — Streaming out of the Carolinas and heading clear to San Francisco, the gaudy caboose of Mike Krzyzewski’s 42-season Duke career carries on. Not even a five-point deficit with five minutes left Sunday could halt it. Next major stop: the Sweet 16, that coaching dreamscape Krzyzewski has frequented like some people frequent taverns.
He will get there a good-grief 26th time to enhance his retiring season because his band of dazzling youngsters remembered its prowess, found its will and overcame by 85-76 the usual deep well of guts belonging to Michigan State. That old codger will coach in a fresh place after all this time: the Golden State Warriors’ house by the Central Basin of the San Francisco Bay, a 2½-year-old toddler among arenas.
He will get there after hyperventilation finally gave way in full with three seconds left when he turned to his assistants, including upcoming successor Jon Scheyer, and smiled deeply.
“We were young for a while there, and I was wondering if we were going to stay young,” he said.
He will get there after one last closing hug with Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, a long one after their 16th meeting across 23 years and untold respect.
“I think our inexperience showed and theirs should have, but . . .” Izzo said.
And he will get there after another gripping day in another rowdy rink, this one Bon Secours Wellness Arena, this one with teams that are 30-6 (Duke) and 23-13 (Michigan State) but this one hot enough to just about melt the hockey ice underneath.
“Today was one of the really good days,” said an exhilarated Krzyzewski, that stockpiler of really good days.
Mostly, he will get to San Francisco because his players took bold drives to the basket to build a 46-37 lead, then took more bold drives to the basket when that lead warped to a 70-65 deficit and so showcased “some of the best drives I’ve seen as a Duke coach, really, especially in a pressure situation,” Krzyzewski said. Every long-touted wonder among Duke’s main six players did something to prevent seeing their coach walk out bummed. “We were so good in the last part of the game,” Krzyzewski said.
Freshman Mark Williams, with Michigan State leading 74-73, wreaked a massive block upon a layup try by A.J. Hoggard, and the 7-foot-1 standout remembered to let the ball stick to his hand thereafter. Freshman Paolo Banchero, who stands 6-10 and 250 pounds but moves like a symphony, had no fear of his starring role, and his manful drive through the left side brought a gimme layup with 2:05 left and pushed Duke ahead 75-74.
Then sophomore Jeremy Roach, having sprinkled some of his own drives into his 15 points, sent a rainbow of a three-point shot that drained with 1:16 left, pushing second-seeded Duke ahead 78-74. Said Roach: “The four-minute media [timeout], I was thinking to myself, ‘If I get an open three, I’m knocking it down.’ ” Said Krzyzewski: “He willed that ball in.”
Nineteen points came from Banchero. Fifteen more came from junior Wendell Moore Jr., who took his own opportunity for some Sunday driving. Fifteen more came from Williams. Twelve more came from sixth man Trevor Keels, whose lone three-point make, from the top with 3:24 left, mended some nerve endings of the fretful Duke throng and briefly tied the score at 72.
Together, they overcame a willful lot from seventh-seeded Michigan State that made 11 of 22 three-point shots.
“We just didn’t cover those drives,” Izzo said.
“We let them get to their spots,” junior Tyson Walker said, “and that’s what hurt us in the last four minutes.”
“We shoot 50 percent from the three,” Izzo said. “We shoot 90 [percent] from the free throw line. We got beat on dribble drives. They have 44 points in the paint; we have 28.”
The reasons for that, as Moore explained, include the five main Duke players who bonded on a drive to the Peach Jam in Atlanta last offseason, “all five of us crammed up in the car,” and how they perceived their predicament come Sunday. “Once we got in the huddle,” Moore said, “we just looked in each other’s eyes, and we knew we weren’t going to lose.”
At the outset, the Spartans appeared to be the team that had spent recent days garnering the lesser amount of respect. Their inferior talent mattered less than their superior heart. Their energy reached its quintessence two minutes into the action when Williams took his 7-1 on a breakaway but Michigan State’s Hoggard, at 6-4, rushed in from behind to block the layup.
Soon, Michigan State led 16-13 and Duke’s two head coaches, Krzyzewski of the present and Scheyer of the future, took on facial expressions indicating they had seen better offense during their lifetimes.
Then things swayed predictably, then swayed back gorgeously.
First, Duke roared to a 21-16 lead with Williams and Banchero starring, including one play when the latter fed the former for a dunk. Michigan State began to dip into its role as the team with fewer ways to make baskets, missing 11 shots in a row and seeing its percentage dip to 29 by the media timeout at 7:12.
At that point, the game didn’t appear it felt much like morphing into a 21st-century three-point shooting contest with both teams trying to get to Stephen Curry’s house, yet that’s what the game went and did.
Count three for all of these: Michigan State’s Jaden Akins with a rainbow from the top of the arc at 5:00, Banchero with a beauty from the left of the top at 4:33, Michigan State’s Gabe Brown with an open look and open conversion from the right of the top at 4:10, Banchero with a swish from the right of the top at 3:41 and Michigan State’s Marcus Bingham Jr. rattling one in from the top at 3:15.
When they finished tallying the score after all of that, Duke led 31-27, but Brown was getting audacious. His three-point shots at 2:21 and 1:38 pretty much sang right in, and he stood 4 for 4 from downtown, his team 7 for 10 (after ranking 26th nationally this season), the score tied at 33 with drama seeming imminent.
Drama came in its unbearable March way when the Spartans fought and fought back. When they had a block from Bingham, a grab of the ball and an outlet by Joey Hauser and a fast-break dunk from Brown, they trailed 63-61. When they got a three from the top and from Walker, they led 68-65. When they got Bingham’s steal, Williams’s foul of Bingham and Bingham’s two free throws, they led 70-65.
Then, when everything had gone “exactly like I hoped it would go,” Izzo said, right where young Duke might have cracked from the stress, Duke found what Izzo called “its truest colors” and Krzyzewski found both a 1,200th career win and another moment.
“Look, I’m 75,” he said. “To have moments like that, you’ve got to be kidding me. Really, how damn lucky can you be in that?”
What to read about college basketball
Men’s bracket | Women’s bracket
Way-too-early top 25: Kentucky, North Carolina, Houston, Gonzaga, Arkansas and Duke should be in the mix again next season.
Rock Chalk, Jayhawk: Kansas forged the biggest comeback in the 83 championship games to date to beat North Carolina and win the men’s national title.
Gamecocks dominate: The women’s national championship is officially heading back to Columbia, S.C., for the second time in program history after a wire-to-wire 64-49 victory by South Carolina over Connecticut.
Mike Krzyzewski’s last game: Coach K’s career ends with joy and agony in college basketball Armageddon.
One day, two title games: A decade after Title IX, a battle for control of women’s basketball split loyalties and produced two national champions.