In a game that in so many ways represented all Duke men’s Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his program has stood for over all these years, Duke rallied from a 10-point second half deficit to defeat St. John’s 77-68 at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon. The win was the 1,000th for legendary Krzyzewski, joining Pat Summitt as the only college basketball coaches ever to achieve the feat.
Duke’s program has been built over the last 35 years on class, grit, determination, and never backing down from any challenge. Whether it is from the very beginning and staring down North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, to staring down a tough opponent in another hostile environment like this game, Duke has never backed down from a challenge.
The fifth-ranked Blue Devils trailed St. John’s 61-51 with just over seven minutes remaining, closing on a 26-7 run to improve to 17-2 this season. Coach K is now 927-249 overall at Duke, after beginning his career 73-59 as coach at Army. The win occurred in the same place his 903rd win came, at MSG, where he eclipsed his mentor Bob Knight with the most wins in men’s history.
It was the story of three games in one. Duke raced out to an early 21-11 lead and then was outscored 50-30 before the closing rush. It was a game Krzyzewski had not seen many of quite like in the 1,308 games he has coached.
“It was a heck of a game. I think that is the very first thing. I thought for 10 minutes, we outplayed them and then for 20 minutes they just killed us with their athleticism.” Krzyzewski said. “We played great in the last 10 minutes and I’m not sure I have ever been a part of a game like that. That’s kind of nuts!”
The difference in the game was the energy boost off the bench, most notably from Matt Jones who scored four points and had six rebounds in 24 minutes. It was his intangibles that made the difference though, lifting Duke when the task seemed a bit much for Krzyzewski’s young team. So often over the years, even with the constant cavalcade of stars, it has been glue guys who give unexpected performances who have made the difference. The sum of the parts, everyone working together, no separate agendas—those ethics embody Duke basketball.
“To win the 1,000th here, in this setting against a storied program, makes this even better. They’ll be others that win more, but it is kind of neat to be the first one to 1,000 wins and the quality of competition we’ve had. Over half of our wins have been in the ACC or the NCAA tournament. It’s not just the number of wins, but the quality of opponents we’ve had,” said Krzyzewski.
Mike Krzyzewski has won 1,000 games now. Summitt won 1,098, so still another mark to reach—as well as four national championships and two Olympic gold medals. But his influence goes so much further. Instilled with West Point discipline, Coach K has never lost sight of priorities. If each and every player does not get his degree, or is at least progressing down a solid path towards his degree, no banner will be raised for a given team’s accomplishments. If you turn pro that is fine, but you must always progress toward that degree, no exceptions.
“I’m the lucky guy who’s been at two great institutions in West Point and Duke. I’ve had unbelievable support.”
It’s a legacy for a lifetime.