Quinn Cook finally hangs a banner for Duke basketball, but wants another
HOUSTON—Standing atop the ladder preparing to cut down the nets after a earning South Regional championship and his first trip to the Final Four, Quinn Cook joked to his teammates that he was afraid of heights.
Making it to the top of that ladder was a new experience for Cook. Throughout his senior season, the Duke guard said his primary motivation was that he "hadn't won anything yet." For a player that has now been part of 116 Blue Devil victories, that is only partially true.
Sunday's 66-52 victory against second-seeded Gonzaga marked the first time one of Cook's Duke teams had won a game that would result in a banner hanging at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Cook had previously been a part of three games during his collegiate career that could have sent a banner flying into the rafters. As a freshman, Cook's Blue Devils squared off with North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the final game of the regular season to decide the ACC regular season title. The following year, Duke fell one game short of the Final Four against top-seeded Louisville in the Midwest Regional final. The Blue Devils had the chance to win an ACC tournament title when Cook was a junior, but fell to Virginia in the championship game.
As Cook sat in the Duke locker room basking in the team's first Final Four trip in five years with the net hanging around his neck, he couldn't say he hadn't won anything anymore.
"[Cook has] done an amazing job all season. He's been an outstanding leader—he's been our rock," junior forward Amile Jefferson said. "For us to do this for him is big-time."
The day before Sunday's game, Cook called Duke's 2013 Elite Eight loss to Louisville the most painful of his career. He said he and Jefferson constantly reminded the team's younger players of that pain in hopes the Blue Devils would never have to feel it again.
Early in the second half it looked like the game might be slipping away from Duke. A 5-0 Gonzaga run tied the game at 31-31. After sophomore Matt Jones drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Blue Devils back the lead, Cook—the team's emotional leader—slapped the floor before the start of his team's next defensive possession.
With Duke trailing 38-34 moments later and the momentum squarely in the Bulldogs' corner, Cook was vocal when his team took a timeout to steady itself.
"He was just getting us hype, letting us know that we were going to win this game," freshman center Jahlil Okafor said. "They made their run, and we were about to make ours."
When the Blue Devils broke the huddle, Cook wasted no time in taking the ball at the rim, banking in a runner off the glass to get his team back on track. That shot was the start of a 9-0 run that gave Duke a lead it would never relinquish.
With 1:17 remaining, Cook was fouled in the backcourt and walked to the free-throw line to give the Blue Devils a 10-point lead. As he calmly stepped to the line and knocked down his two free throws, everyone inside NRG Stadium knew that Duke was finally Final Four-bound.
After leading his team to victory and holding Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos to just four points, Cook was finally called to the bench with two seconds remaining. As the final seconds ticked away, he embraced head coach Mike Krzyzewski and let his emotions take over.
But just minutes after achieving a goal that dates back four years, Cook had moved onto his team's next challenge. When a reporter asked him about Duke's quest for a banner being done, Cook interrupted her and replied, "It's not over."
"Just getting to the Final Four wasn't our ultimate goal. We want to win two more games," he said. "To be so close, it's overwhelming. But you have to stay humble and hungry because it's not over yet."