With the end of 2018 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.  

Coming in at No. 3 on our list: Duke men's basketball comes up inches short—literally—of a 17th Final Four appearance in arguably the most exciting game of the 2018 NCAA tournament. 

In so many ways, Grayson Allen’s Duke career was memorable. From a magical national semifinal performance as a freshman to a series of infamous tripping incidents to a controversial buzzer-beating layup at Cameron Indoor to take down Virginia, Allen authored plenty of moments as a Blue Devil. 

And if not for an unfriendly rim inside the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb., Allen would have made at least one more before leaving Duke. 

The second-seeded Blue Devils dropped their Elite Eight matchup on March 25 to No. 1-seed Kansas 85-81, falling victim to a deep, experienced Jayhawk squad in overtime. Allen struggled in his finale, scoring just 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting, but freshman point guard Trevon Duval nearly gave Duke enough offense to continue its quest for a sixth national title, logging team highs with 20 points and six assists. 

“We wanted to be the team at the end of the year winning. No one wants to end with a loss like that,” Allen said afterwards. “It's so abrupt. The end of the game comes and it's over. It hurts. You can't say much more than that.” 

The Blue Devils began their tournament with a pretty impressive opening weekend. They coasted to victories in Pittsburgh, first taking out Iona before easily running past No. 7-seed Rhode Island, thanks to a 17-point advantage at halftime.  

That set the stage for an exciting regional weekend in Omaha, as Duke and Syracuse readied for their second matchup in just less than a month—the Blue Devils had already beaten the Orange 60-44 during ACC play. 

Duke battled with Syracuse in the early going before grabbing the lead for good in the final minutes of the first half. The Orange would not go away, however, seemingly able to provide an answer to every Blue Devil run. Duke would ultimately seize a nine-point advantage just before the night’s final media timeout, and despite several empty possessions down the stretch, Syracuse could not pull another upset. 

Gary Trent Jr., who couldn’t get much going from downtown en route to just 2-of-8 shooting on 3-pointers against the Orange, hit two clutch free throws to seal the win. 

“I just have confidence in myself,” Trent said after the Sweet 16 win. “I shoot numerous free throws all the time and whenever I step up to the line, I think they’re going to go in.” 

The Blue Devils’ Elite Eight tussle was as tight as they come. Duke and Kansas were tied 11 times in the contest and the lead changed hands between the two sides 18 times. 

Even after the Jayhawks stretched their advantage to as many as seven at the start of the second half, Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski called a timeout and his team responded, with Duval and Marvin Bagley III drilling treys. Duke eventually tied the game at 57 and neither team would go up by more than five points until the final seconds of overtime. 

But what had the chance to be another magical March came crashing down. 

“I gave it all I got and that’s what we’re supposed to do every game," Duval said after losing to Kansas in what would be his last game as a Blue Devil. "When you give it all you got, it just hurts a lot more knowing that you put it all on the line for your team, even for the University. For us to go out like that, it just sucks." 

Allen graduated in May, and the freshman foursome of Bagley, Trent, Duval and Wendell Carter Jr. all left Durham early for the NBA Draft. 

READ MORE on Duke's men’s basketball’s 2017-18 season

ROCKED AND CHALKED: Kansas tops Duke men's basketball in overtime in Elite Eight

'It just sucks': Duke men's basketball's promising season comes to abrupt end

JUICED: Duke men's basketball squeezes out win vs. Orange in Sweet 16

THUNDER RHODE: Duke men's basketball steamrolls Rams to advance to Sweet 16

ZOMBIE DUKE BACK TO LIFE: Duke men's basketball rallies from 13-point deficit to top Tar Heels

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown to date:

No. 10: Duke volleyball earns first postseason bid since 2014

No. 9: Duke women's tennis rides dominant play for a trip to the national semifinals

No. 8: Duke men's golf surprises with a Final Four spot

No. 7: Duke football picks up bowl eligibility in the Miami rain

No. 6: Duke women’s basketball makes Sweet Sixteen run

No. 5: Duke men's basketball's strong Maui Invitational showing

No. 4: Duke men's lacrosse advances to the national championship