After going through the usual postgame handshakes, the winningest coach in Division I men's basketball history walked to center court.
But instead of the Cameron Crazies saluting him, it was Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski who bowed down to the Duke students and the Cameron faithful, adding an extra fist pump before jogging to the locker room.
Following a little more than four weeks away due to lower-back surgery, Krzyzewski returned to the Blue Devil sideline as his team used a strong second-half performance from Grayson Allen to hold off Pittsburgh 72-64 Saturday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Allen scored 18 of his 21 points after halftime, knocking down four key 3-pointers to get the team's offense in gear after it started the second half 4-of-13 from the field against the Panther zone.
The win was Krzyzewski’s 500th at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I’ve been blessed over the years to have passion, anger and adrenaline. All three of those things kick in and I’ll see how I handle it now afterwards,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m so proud of my team and the crowd. It’s so good to be back. I felt like crying when they were doing the introductions because you forget how lucky you are until something is taken away from you and I’ve been so damn lucky.”
Graduate student Amile Jefferson added 15 points and nine rebounds in his most complete performance since returning from a right-foot bone bruise Jan. 21. Freshman Jayson Tatum also carried the Duke offense before the team warmed up from long range, scoring the first eight points of the second half and finishing the game with 12.
“It was great for our team. They’re a really experienced and older team, and they’re really good no matter what their record is,” Jefferson said. “For our guys to weather the storm when they made their run and to be poised—Grayson hit big shots, huge shots for us, and Frank [Jackson] did an amazing job, Jayson in the second half was great. It was a game where our guys got better, and we got better collectively.”
It was not smooth sailing early on for the No. 21 Blue Devils (18-5, 6-4 in the ACC). A gritty Panther side—just five days after taking No. 12 North Carolina down to the wire in Chapel Hill—shortened the game, holding the hosts to just 3-of-13 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half to keep the contest tied at 28 apiece entering the break.
Although the return of the 69-year old head coach ignited the building pregame with his entrance, Duke came out flat offensively. The Blue Devils shot just 41.4 percent from the field in the first half and failed to get in a rhythm after starting 4-of-7 with four assists in the first five minutes of the game.
But seven straight second-half baskets got the Blue Devil offense rolling and finally brought Krzyzewski to his feet.
“When we get on his bus and we play with that same energy that he brings, it’s unbelievable, so it was good to have him back. Even when he was getting on me, that was good,” Jefferson said. “Just to have his presence, and with him and Coach Capel, we have two head coaches, and they’re both amazing.”
The top two scorers in the ACC, Pittsburgh's Jamel Artis and Michael Young, combined for 41 points as the Panthers (12-11, 1-9) racked up 40 points in the paint to stay in the game until a quick 8-2 burst—including one of Allen’s five total triples and five points from Jackson—seemed to tame the visitors for good.
Five straight points from Artis, however, cut the 60-51 deficit to three with 3:10 remaining before Allen, who added six rebounds and six assists, drained two more from downtown to seal the win.
Duke finished with 19 assists on its 25 field goals.
“I thought we did a better job attacking their zone,” Allen said. “They’re a really long team and they can play that zone really well. We had to just keep attacking and moving the ball around and making sure that we’re making good passes that they weren’t deflecting. I think we got a little bit adjusted to that in the second half.”
The Blue Devils—now with their head coach back in the fold and a three-game winning streak in hand—will begin preparing for the first of two Tobacco Road rivalry matchups. Duke hosts the Tar Heels at 8 p.m. Thursday.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."