LAHAINA, Hawaii—After blowing out No. 2 Kentucky by 34 in the season opener, the Blue Devils became the center of the national media—even more so than usual.
Just 15 days later in game No. 6, Duke’s youth was apparent for most of the game before a furious comeback came up short.
The top-ranked Blue Devils stormed back from a 16-point second-half deficit, but No. 3 Gonzaga prevailed 89-87 in the Maui Invitational championship game. After Zion Williamson tied the game at 87 with 1:41 left, Duke missed its last seven field-goal attempts as the Bulldogs clogged the paint and repeatedly denied freshman R.J. Barrett at the rim.
"In the last 14, 15 minutes of the game I thought we dictated everything," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Then it's anybody's game there right at the end. We have a number of moves right at the bucket or right around the bucket where we couldn't finish or get fouled and that's really the game right there."
Rui Hachimura scored the last points of the game with a go-ahead layup under the basket to give the Bulldogs back the lead with 1:15 remaining. Barrett tried to answer at the other end, but could not convert on a pair of forced shots with less than a minute remaining. Brandon Clarke missed a pair of free throws at the other end, but Barrett again could not get the bucket to fall on the interior.
Hachimura was fouled with 10 seconds left, but could not either attempt yet again. Barrett once again tried to convert on the inside, but the Bulldog pressure was too much as the clock expired and Gonzaga escaped with a victory.
Barrett and Williamson led Duke (5-1) back in the game with 23 and 22 points respectively. Williamson was a monster on the glass Wednesday, racking up seven offensive rebounds, giving the Blue Devils much needed extra opportunities with the Bulldogs scoring at ease.
"They were just dictating the flow," Krzyzewski said about the opposing attack. "They were playing great offense. They are an outstanding offensive team. Not that they're bad defensively, but they have great movement and we weren't talking. And our bigs were not able to defend their actions the way we needed to defend them."
Gonzaga (6-0) came out firing out of the break, making a dunk and a pair of triples to open up a 16-point advantage, but the Blue Devils responded.
Tre Jones had a layup and a steal with 16 minutes remaining to cut the Bulldog lead to 12 and give Duke some life. Two minutes later, Barrett drove to the basket and converted an and-one to trim it to nine.
With 5:56 remaining, captain Javin DeLaurier missed a free throw, Jack White grabbed the offensive rebound and Williamson soared over three Bulldog defenders to cut the deficit to six.
Barrett ran up the floor a minute later and slammed it home to cut it to four.
The teams went back and forth for the next few minutes before Jones again found a path into the paint and hit a floater to trim the lead to one at 86-85. Wiliamson then tied the game with an eight-footer on the ensuing possession.
"It started with Tre's play where he scored and then stole the ball and got fouled," Krzyzewski said of the comeback. "All of our guys need to know that just one guy making a play like that can turn the emotion of the game around and Tre did that."
Jones once again thrived as the floor general Wednesday, continuing to show off his play-making abilities. Jones accumulated a career-high 17 points and added three assists for the Blue Devils, but it was not enough.
Hachimura, a potential NBA Draft lottery pick, shined in opposition to the Blue Devil freshmen. Hachimura contributed a team-high 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Bulldogs. Zach Norvell Jr. also continued his dominant tournament with 18 points including 4-of-7 shooting beyond the arc in the contest.
Duke trailed from the onset as the Bulldogs came out firing. Gonzaga converted an astounding 64.5 percent of its first-half attempts and drained 6-of-10 attempts beyond the arc to take an eight-point advantage into the locker room.
"I thought we looked young," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's not that we were tired, because we both played the same amount of games, but I thought emotionally they were more ready than we were. And that's something that you learn. You have to learn that by being in these situations. We were ready to play but we weren't as emotionally ready to play as we needed to be."
After being forced to win from the perimeter against Auburn, Duke only attempted five 3-point attempts through the opening 18 minutes of the contest. However, trailing by 14 and struggling to combat the Bulldog offense, the Blue Devils looked to extend their range at the end of the half.
Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins hit from downtown with 1:25 remaining in the first half to extend the lead to 14, but Duke did not let the Bulldogs put it away before the break. Barrett drained a triple at the other end to cut the lead down to 11. Duke followed that make up with improved defense, forcing back-to-back turnovers to gain possession with less than four seconds on the clock. Jack White passed it in to Jones, who took a few dribbles and nailed a shot from the edge of the tournament logo at midcourt to cut the lead back down to eight.
"Tre is the heart and soul of our team. We go as he goes, he's an amazing player," DeLaurier said. "He almost never makes the wrong play and he's capable of providing everyone with energy. We all respect him. He's our point guard and we'll follow him into battle."
Following the conclusion of the Maui Invitational, Duke will fly back to Durham where it will host Indiana Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten challenge at 9:30 p.m.
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Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113. Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.