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Marvin Bagley III's historic performance saves Duke men's basketball

Marvin Bagley III matched Duke's freshman scoring record with 34 points Friday.
Marvin Bagley III matched Duke's freshman scoring record with 34 points Friday.

PORTLAND, Ore.—At halftime at the Moda Center, it looked like Texas was about to run Duke out of the gym. 

But the Blue Devils recovered and staged a remarkable comeback to beat the Longhorns 85-78 in overtime, led by a powerhouse performance from freshman Marvin Bagley III. Bagley was one of Duke’s few bright spots in the first half, leading the team with 10 points, and took full control during the Blue Devils' 16-point second-half comeback to finish with 34 points and 15 rebounds.

It was the most points any Duke freshman has scored since J.J. Redick matched it in 2003 and the first time any Duke player had a game with at least 30 points and 15 boards since Christian Laettner in 1992. 

"I knew he was going to be good, but coaching him every day, he’s a treasure really, because he wants to be really good, and he comes to work," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I coached the U.S. team for a long time. He’s of that ilk. He has it, and he has to just keep developing it, so we’ll see where it goes."

In the second half, Bagley was able to get good position repeatedly down low, along with freshman Wendell Carter Jr. Senior guard Grayson Allen took over at point guard with Trevon Duval on the bench and kept feeding Bagley on the pick-and-roll, helping Duke slowly chip away at the Longhorns’ lead. 

“We just had to attack,” Bagley said. “We had to get that attack mentality. We were playing really well and we were still down by a lot in the second half. Everything they shot, they couldn’t miss. It was really frustrating, but we just had to lock in.”

After a historic evening in Portland, Marvin Bagley III thinks he can still be even better.

Although Allen may have helped fuel Duke’s comeback, he was whistled for a charge and fouled out with two minutes left in a tie game. With five freshmen on the floor, Bagley stepped up the rest of the way, showing the confidence Krzyzewski and his teammates have in his play. 

On the last possession of regulation, Bagley got the ball beyond the 3-point line and attempted a pull-up triple to try and win the game. He missed, as did Alex O'Connell and Carter on put-back attempts as time expired, and the game went to overtime. When Bagley asked Krzyzewski if it was a bad shot before overtime, Krzyzewski just told him to “keep playing.”

Keep playing he did. Bagley scored the Blue Devils' first seven points of overtime, and Duke never trailed in the extra session.

Bagley’s free-throw shooting also improved in the clutch. He went 50 percent from the charity stripe against Portland State and was only 33 percent in the first half against Texas. But he shot 8-for-10 in the second half and overtime, finishing at 69.2 percent overall. 

The game marked the fifth double-double of the season in seven games for Bagley, with one of those games cut short when he was sidelined for the last 30 minutes against then-No. 2 Michigan State with an eye injury. 

Bagley said Friday he could not see 30 to 45 minutes after that injury, and that he thought it might have been the last time he played basketball. But playing his first full game against a marquee opponent in Texas, he seemed to rise to the occasion. 

“He has something to prove. He knows he has a target on his back, and he’s accepting it and he’s going after it,” Allen said. “He doesn’t do anything out of character. It’s amazing how he lets the game come to him and makes simple plays, but the simple plays, you just can’t stop, and that’s what leads to him having double-doubles.”

One of the most anticipated matchups of the opening weeks of the season was Bagley against Texas freshman center Mohamed Bamba. Although Bamba outplayed Bagley and Carter in the first half, the duo managed to hold him to nine points and 10 rebounds, and he fouled out with less than two minutes left after fouling freshman Gary Trent Jr. on a drive to the rim. 

The overtime victory marked the first time Duke has played a game that was still undecided on the final play of regulation, and it showed that Bagley and this freshmen-heavy team can show poise down the stretch.

But Bagley also knows he will have to come out stronger in the first half against No. 7 Florida so the Blue Devils will not have to hope for second-half heroics for the third straight game in Portland.

“We can’t go into the game thinking they’re going to be easy games,” Bagley said. “We have to be prepared and play like every game is going to be our last game, and I think in the second half, we showed that.”