INDIANAPOLIS—The drive for five was not without its bumps, but led by the second-half heroics of rookie guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen, Duke will hang yet another banner at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke won its fifth national championship in an instant classic, besting Wisconsin 68-63 at Lucas Oil Stadium Monday night. Jones and Allen combined for 39 points to lead the Blue Devils to their second title in six years in Indianapolis, with Jones and freshman center Jahlil Okafor engineering a late 10-0 run to seal the win. But on a night that featured a freshman duo as the brightest stars, the title and subsequent banner might have meant the most to the team's lone senior.
"Something that we’ve all dreamed of—growing up watching Duke, watching Coach K win championships and celebrate with his great players," senior captain Quinn Cook said. "To be next to Coach, he’s been like a father to me over these last four years, so to have his arm around me and hugging me while we’re watching One Shining Moment, it was probably the best feeling of my life."
Cook got his championship moment, but the Blue Devils' freshman guards were the ones who earned Duke's second title in Indianapolis in the last six years.
Jones torched the Badgers for 22 points in the teams' first matchup in Madison and showed once again—this time on the world's brightest stage—that he may have been the most clutch player in college basketball this season.
After scoring just four points in the first half, Jones burst out of the gates in the second period, scoring 19 points in the final 20 minutes, keeping the Badgers from pulling away and saving the Blue Devils' hopes of a fifth national championship.
"[Playing with Jones] makes the game a lot easier," rookie swingman Justise Winslow said. "Him being a leader, being able to make plays with the ball in his hand and then also he has range, so it spreads out the court. There's really no better point guard I would rather play with than him."
Jones stole the show once again, but entering the game most eyes were on the teams' two dominant centers—Okafor and National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky. The battle between the duo lived up to the hype early on, with the two exchanging jabs—Kaminsky knocked down a 3-pointer to get Wisconsin on the board first and took a key charge in the game's opening minutes. Okafor countered with a pair of thunderous dunks. But the fight would die quickly, as Okafor picked up his fourth foul with 9:18 left in the game because of his inability to stay with Kaminsky off the dribble.
It was neither Okafor nor Kaminsky that commanded the gaze of Lucas Oil Stadium's crowd of 71,149—rather, Duke's dynamic duo featured the normally clutch Jones and his unlikely sidekick, Allen, who did not even see the court in the teams' Dec. 3 matchup.
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The Jacksonville, Fla., native attacked the rim with reckless abandon, finishing with 16 points—12 coming in the second half—and a perfect 5-of-5 from the foul line. With the Blue Devils trailing 48-39 with 13:25 remaining, Allen scored eight consecutive points for Duke to keep his team's bid for a national title alive.
"We got down nine there in the second half and things weren’t going well and then maybe the most unsung of our freshmen came in and gave us a lift and got us back going," associate head coach Jeff Capel said. "Then Tyus got going, Jah came in, in some foul trouble, made some big baskets."
Junior Amile Jefferson—who played stifling defense on Kaminsky down the stretch after Okafor went to the bench—added a key block on the Blue Devils' next defensive possession.
Jones then drove down the court, took on Koenig and drew a foul on the right baseline while flipping up a prayer. With Koenig, Jones and the capacity crowd looking on, the ball fell, stroking the bottom of the net as the official's whistle sounded. The Apple Valley, Minn., native converted the free throw to cut Duke's deficit to 51-50.
"Tyus has been money all year," sophomore guard Matt Jones said. "When he makes shots like those, you sort of expect it. And when he misses, you're kind of mad at him because he's teased you so long that you just expect him to make it. And he hasn't failed us yet."
Six minutes later, Allen put in a tough layup over the outstretched fingers of Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser to give Duke its first lead of the second half.
Then Jones and Okafor sealed the deal.
The Badgers took a 58-56 lead with 4:25 left in the game, but Jones kick-started the Blue Devils' game-clinching 10-0 run 17 seconds by canning a 3-pointer following a high ball screen—the play Duke used throughout the second half to free up its closer.
Okafor—who had been held scoreless in the second half—then showed why he was the ACC Player of the Year, putting in back-to-back buckets to extend the Blue Devil lead to five.
Another dagger Jones 3-pointer with 1:24 left from the top of the key capped the run and sealed the win—the tournament's Most Outstanding Player would later ice the game from the free-throw line.
"I haven’t loved a team any more than I’ve loved this team," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We have eight guys, and four of them are freshmen. For them to win 35 games, and win the national title is incredible…. How good is that? They’ve been a joy, they’ve been an incredible joy. When you’re already happy and you get even happier? That’s pretty damn good."