OMAHA, Neb.—There couldn't have been more at stake Sunday evening—two of college basketball's most storied programs on the floor with a trip to San Antonio on the line.
Yet after 29 wins, five months of basketball and one dramatic overtime period, the Blue Devils' season came to a screeching halt.
Despite a fiery start for Trevon Duval and a second-half resurgence by Wendell Carter Jr., top-seeded Kansas eked past No. 2 seed Duke at the CenturyLink Center to claim the last spot in the national semifinals with an 85-81 overtime victory. The Blue Devils had a chance to win it in regulation, but Grayson Allen's floater off the glass just rimmed out at the buzzer.
“We wanted to be the team at the end of the year winning. No one wants to end with a loss like that. It's so abrupt. The end of the game comes and it's over,” Allen said. “It hurts. You can't say much more than that.”
As the clock ticked under three minutes in the extra period, Jayhawk guard Malik Newman drove hard to the hole, drawing a blocking foul on Carter to disqualify the big man. But the Kansas redshirt sophomore managed just one of two at the stripe, leveling the game again, this time at 76.
After a Blue Devil timeout, Duval drove down the right side and sank a hook shot, only to see Newman knock down a pair on the other end to tie things again.
Newman—who finished with a career-high 32 points, including five triples—then canned a 3-pointer in the corner opposite the Jayhawk bench with 1:49 to play, putting Kansas in front for good.
“He's been their hottest player. He basically continued to do what he does,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But their four perimeter players, it's very difficult to concentrate on stopping one. Graham in the first half was the guy. And that's why they're as good as they are…. They've got four really good options. But [Newman’s] been really hot.”
The Blue Devils (29-8) held a 68-67 lead at the final media timeout of regulation thanks to consecutive buckets by Carter. From there, after the Jayhawks slipped back ahead on a thunderous alley-oop, a pair of Allen free throws put Duke back on top with just less than two minutes to play.
And even after a quiet day, the Blue Devil captain kept it going, drawing another foul and calmly drilling two more to give Duke a 72-69 lead. The Blue Devils could not convert on a chance to ice it on their next possession before Svi Mykhailiuk drained a triple to tie it, sending the contest to overtime when Allen’s attempt rolled off the rim.
“It came really close to going in and it didn't,” Allen said. “I was trying to drive right, he cut me off, went back left, and their big stepped up to help. And I had to get a shot up over him and tried to bank it in, and it was right there.”
After trailing by three at half, Kansas (31-7) found an early offensive groove with 11 of the first 14 points out of the break to grab a 44-39 lead. That forced a quick timeout by Coach K just three and a half minutes into the period following a corner trey by Lagerald Vick that ignited the heavily pro-Jayhawk crowd.
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But Duke responded to its largest deficit of the day, getting triples from Duval and then Bagley to pull within one before the Jayhawks called a timeout of their own just before the 13-minute mark of the half.
Back down five following another mini-run by the Jayhawks, the Blue Devils pulled back to within a single point with 6:34 remaining. Then, Trent rattled home a long triple, putting Duke back in front 64-62 for the first time since the start of the half to set up the game's final stretch.
Trent and Duval combined for 37 points on 16-of-34 shooting from the field to lead the way for the Blue Devils.
It was a back-and-forth first 20 minutes, as neither team could gain much of an advantage. Duke and Kansas exchanged leads seven times in the opening stanza along with four ties, but tightness and poor shooting told the story of the first half. The Blue Devils hit just three of their 15 long-range attempts and the Jayhawks committed 10 turnovers—they averaged just 11.6 a game entering Sunday.
For Duke, an electric performance from Duval set the tone early. The freshman floor general led the way 13 first-half points to outscore Bagley, Allen and Carter combined. And he picked up the slack, especially after Carter was sent to the bench with two fouls in the first 12 minutes and another before intermission.
“When I watched film, I’d seen how they play defense and how much they leave the whole lane open, so it’s pretty much just one-on-one,” Duval said. “If anyone knows me, that’s one of my strong suits—one-on-one and driving to the basket—so as soon as I saw they were playing defense that way, I took advantage of it.”
Now, Kansas will turn its attention to a Final Four matchup with No. 1 seed Villanova Saturday night in San Antonio. The game will be the second contest of the doubleheader, beginning 40 minutes after the conclusion of the 6:09 p.m. game between 11th-seeded Loyola Chicago and No. 3 seed Michigan.
The Blue Devils, on the other hand, will return to Durham, falling short of what would’ve been Krzyzewski’s 13th Final Four appearance.
In the coming weeks, some Blue Devils will likely make decisions to forgo their remaining years of college eligibility. Allen will finish up his classes and graduate in May. And the rest of the team will return next fall, ready to make a run at a national title with yet another top-ranked recruiting class.
For now, though, the next step is simple.
“I just want to get home and go to my bed,” Duval said.