NEW YORK—First, there was No. 903. Sunday afternoon, one of basketball's iconic figures reached another milestone at the sport's most iconic venue.
A 13-1 second-half run for the Blue Devils brought No. 5 Duke back from a double-digit hole to claim a 77-68 victory against St. John's Sunday at Madison Square Garden, earning legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski the 1,000th victory of his 40-year career in comeback fashion.
Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor led the way for the Duke comeback, combining to score 55 points, 31 of them coming after halftime. Each player had a 3-point play to help erase what was once a 61-51 deficit, and Cook splashed home his fourth triple of the afternoon to put Duke back ahead by one, a lead they would never relinquish.
In a game that saw both teams squander a double-digit lead, the Blue Devils buckled down in the closing seven minutes to seize control after the Red Storm dominated the middle third of the game. Krzyzewski has coached 1,308 games in his career, but the one that got him his milestone victory had even him shaking his head.
"I'm not sure I've ever been part of a game like that, that's kind of nuts," said Krzyzewski, the first Division I men's basketball coach to reach the marker. "To have one that's different, that's what makes the game so good. To do it here [at Madison Square Garden]—just to win here, but to do it here for 1,000, you've got to be a lucky guy.... This is a magical place."
Returning to the arena where he earned his 903rd victory to pass mentor Bob Knight for most in Division I men's basketball history, Krzyzewski expected a battle from the Red Storm (13-6). But in the early going, it looked as though Duke (17-2) might coast to the historic milestone, as a monstrous Jahlil Okafor dunk in transition gave the Blue Devils a 21-10 edge with 12:25 remaining.
It wouldn't be quite so easy. Trailing by 11, head coach Steve Lavin called a timeout to stop the bleeding, and the Red Storm emerged from the bench a new team. Sir'Dominic Pointer and Rysheed Jordan led the charge for St. John's, combining for 29 first-half points as the Red Storm cut the lead to 23-19, eventually charging ahead 33-32 on a 3-point play by Jordan. During the run, Duke scored seven points in seven minutes.
A 3-pointer at the buzzer by D'Angelo Harrison gave the home team a 43-39 lead heading into the locker room. The ball appeared to leave Harrison's hands after the shot clock expired, but the play was not reviewed despite Krzyzewski's animated conversation with the officials.
At 67 years old, Krzyzewski has spent more than half his life manning the Duke sideline, and was in peak form Sunday, imploring his team to defend and at one point asking for one of his team's trademark floor slaps.
"Energy is not a matter of age. It's a matter of commitment to your position, to what you do. As long as I'm doing it, I'm going to bring energy," Krzyzewski said. "It was beautiful to see them fight today."
The Red Storm didn't let up out of the locker room, as senior Phil Greene IV scored four straight points for St. John's early in the second half. After the Red Storm guard parted a sea of Blue Devil defenders to hit back-to-back floaters in the lane to push the lead to 51-43 and give the St. John's faithful more to cheer about. The run coincided with the departure of Amile Jefferson, forced to the sideline with three personal fouls.
With Jefferson and sixth man Rasheed Sulaimon on the bench in foul trouble, the Blue Devils made their push. Cook cut the lead to seven before Jones drove baseline to draw the hoop and the harm. The freshman floor general converted the ensuing free throw to trim the deficit to 61-57 with 6:51 to play. Jones finished with a game-high 22 points, tying a career-high.
"We were losing and we knew we had to come together and slowly start to chip away," Jones said. "We just wanted to do it for Coach. We hadn't been playing as well as we would've liked to. It was just the time of the game where we had to get it going."
Fifteen seconds later, Okafor corralled an errant Jones 3-pointer and finished a 3-point play of his own, putting the momentum back in Duke's corner. When Cook knocked down his fourth triple to put his team ahead 63-62—his team's first lead since the 4:37 mark of the first half—the sizable Blue Devil contingent threatened to tear the roof off The World's Most Famous Arena.
On the other end, the Blue Devils got a big boost from reserves Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones. The big front line of Okafor and Plumlee gave up some quickness to Pointer and the other St. John's forwards, but held its own down low, grabbing rebounds and forcing the Red Storm guards to pull up for jumpers rather than finish drives at the rim. St. John's missed 11 of its last 14 shots in the game's final 9:52.
"[Plumlee] was amazing. He came off the bench and provided something that we needed," Jefferson said. "He rebounded excellently, he was talking. He and Matt came off the bench and helped us win this game."
Throughout the week, players and coaches had stressed Sunday's game as an opportunity to win Duke's 17th game of the season. Having achieved that goal, the Blue Devils allowed themselves to soak in the true meaning of the victory.
"It's for all the [former] players. We were doing it for the program, doing it for Coach, and doing it for all the guys before us," Cook said. "We happened to be here, and we're all humbled and blessed to be a part of history."
"It's almost like you can't believe that it all happened like this, that he would get his 1,000th win here in The Garden. It's amazing how the world works," added Jefferson. "It's a historic moment—for us to just be in it is great."
With the ticker recalibrated to accommodate four digits, Krzyzewski will take aim at career win 1,001 Wednesday at No. 8 Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m.
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