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. 5 on our list: Duke men's basketball takes down then-No. 8 Auburn and nearly mounts a 16-point comeback to No. 3 Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational championship. 

After taking down then-No. 2 Kentucky in a 34-point blowout in the season opener, Duke entered the 2018 Maui Invitational as the nation's top team and one of the most hyped squads in recent memory. 

However, the Blue Devils faced a tough task in the Aloha State, needing to win three games in three days—including back-to-back contests against top-10 teams—in order to take home a sixth tournament title and remain perfect in Hawaii. 

Duke opened the tournament on a strong note, using a 3-point barrage to take down San Diego State 90-64. The Blue Devils drained 10 triples in the contest and were led by then-career performances from Jack White and Tre Jones. White added a career-high 12 points and eight rebounds in the victory, while Jones proved he can be a threat on the offensive end with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. 

"We're going to elevate the role of the role player and the importance of that role player," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of White's performance. "Coach [John] Wooden said a long time ago, 'do what you're capable of doing at the highest level and don't let what you don't do that will get in the way'. And it's really simple great advice. The Canadian trip helped Jack find himself in that way." 

On its second day in Maui, Duke had another role player step up in a big way against then-No. 8 Auburn. This time, Marques Bolden showed flashes of the five-star talent he was recruited for back in 2016, playing a crucial role in the Blue Devils' 78-72 victory. Bolden added 11 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven blocks in the contest. 

Duke struggled from the field against the Tigers, draining less than 30 percent of its 3-point attempts, but the Blue Devils used exquisite rim protection and defense to maintain control of the game. Duke opened up a 17-point first-half advantage and never looked back against a veteran Auburn squad. 

"This is the best, by far, that we have protected our basket in a few years," Krzyzewski said about Bolden's performance. "The defense was exquisite. It was at the highest level. Seven blocks and changing some shots, man, that's a heck of a performance." 

The win set up a highly-anticipated matchup against No. 3 Gonzaga in the championship game. The veteran Bulldog squad used efficient shooting and mismatches in the paint to open up a 16-point advantage, but a young Duke team would not back down trailing for the first time all season. 

Jones and R.J. Barrett turned up the intensity and led Duke back into the contest. Jones accumulated a career-high 17 points to counter Rui Hachimura's 20 and a layup from Zion Williamson tied the game at 87 with 1:41 left. 

But the Blue Devils could not take advantage of four bricked Gonzaga free throws as Barrett missed numerous opportunities to tie the contest in the final seconds. Duke would fall in Maui for the first time in program history, 89-87. 

"In the last 14, 15 minutes of the game I thought we dictated everything," 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." 

The Blue Devils would drop out of the top spot with the loss but returned to No. 1 earlier this week after maintaining a perfect record following the heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs. 

READ MORE on Duke's Maui Invitational performance:

ZIGGED AND ZAGGED: 16-point rally comes up short for Duke men's basketball against Gonzaga

Duke men's basketball overpowers San Diego State with 3-point barrage in Maui opener

Tre Jones finally breaks out offensively for Duke men's basketball

Marques Bolden shines as Duke men's basketball beats Auburn to advance to Maui championship

Duke men's basketball displays poise in the midst of adversity against Auburn

Duke men's basketball's inexperience in big moments proves costly in loss to Gonzaga

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