The 2018-19 Duke campaign will forever be remembered as a rollercoaster ride.
Entering the season ranked No. 4, the hype train never came to a stop once the team first took the court in Canada back in August. The Blue Devils showed periods of greatness throughout the season, prompting debate on whether or not they could compete with the NBA’s bottom-dwellers. Duke fought through the adversity of an injury bug during conference play to the high of an ACC championship, before the season came to an abrupt end Sunday in the Elite Eight.
Here’s a breakdown of the moments that will define this past season:
Aug. 14, 2018—Williamson dunks from the free throw line during Duke Canada Tour
Zion Williamson’s Duke highlight reel began during practice prior to the team’s first exhibition matchup in R.J. Barrett’s hometown of Mississauga, Ontario. Williamson leaped from 15 feet away from the basket and slammed it home. The duo did not disappoint during three games in front of a total of 20,000-plus fans in attendance north of the border—Williamson averaged 29.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per game while Barrett averaged 30.7 points.
Nov. 6, 2018—Duke freshmen make grand entrance in blowout against Kentucky
Despite starting four freshmen, the Blue Devils looked unfazed when they took the court against the No. 2 team in the country on opening night. The quartet began the contest with makes in the order of their commitments and spurted out to a 21-point edge in less than nine minutes. Barrett, Williamson and Reddish took the world by storm, combining for 83 points—nearly outscoring the Wildcats—in a 118-84 blowout. Duke drained 12-of-26 shots from downtown, en route to the strongest offensive performance of the season across college basketball and arguably the most impressive in program history.
Nov. 21, 2018—Barrett goes 0-for-5 in final minute as Duke falls to Gonzaga in Maui
No. 3 Gonzaga was unstoppable out of the gates in the Maui Invitational championship game, draining 64.5 percent of its first-half shots and opening up a 16-point advantage early in the second half. But the Blue Devils climbed back behind 17 points from Tre Jones, and a jumper from Williamson with 1:45 left knotted the game at 87. Unfortunately, Duke could not take advantage of four consecutive misses at the line from the Bulldogs, and Barrett’s contested miss at the buzzer ended any talk of an undefeated season—yes, people actually thought this could happen.
Jan. 5, 2019—Williamson throws down 360 slam against Clemson
During nonconference play, Williamson’s signature dunk was the windmill employed against both San Diego State and Indiana. However, Williamson dug deeper into his bag of tricks in the Blue Devils’ conference opener. After knocking the ball away from Clemson’s Shelton Mitchell midway through the second half, Williamson unleashed a 360-degree slam to electrify the Cameron Crazies. That slam was arguably the highlight of the season, and it became impossible to watch a Duke game down the stretch without seeing that dunk played at least three times throughout the broadcast.
Jan. 12, 2019—Reddish drains buzzer-beating triple at Florida State
Reddish entered the contest with a maximum of 10 points during the previous six games, but with Williamson sidelined for the second half after getting poked in the eye, Reddish and Barrett carried the Blue Devil offense. Barrett stepped to the line with five seconds on the clock and a chance to tie the game at 78. After making the first, Barrett missed the second, but the ball was deflected by No. 13 Florida State, giving Duke a chance down one to go for the win. On the inbounds, Reddish found himself wide open on the perimeter and drained the go-ahead triple as time expired.
Jan. 14, 2019—Jones suffers shoulder injury vs. Syracuse, Blue Devils fall in OT
Duke got out to a 12-0 advantage against the Orange despite playing without Reddish, who was ill. But when Jones went down six minutes in, the Blue Devils showed a rare sign of vulnerability. The Blue Devils could not stop Tyus Battle, who dropped 32 points, and Duke ceded a season-high 95 points. Williamson went 1-for-2 at the line with the team down one in the final seconds of regulation, and he and Barrett could not carry the Blue Devils to victory in overtime as Duke fell 95-91 for its second loss of the season. The Blue Devils went just 9-for-43 from downtown, including 10 misses from Jack White. The entire night can be summed up in one shot....
Jan. 19, 2019—Without Jones, Duke knocks off unbeaten Virginia
Jones would miss two games with an AC joint separation, but the Blue Devils did not miss a beat. Turning around to host undefeated No. 4 Virginia, Barrett and Williamson exerted their dominance against an athletically inferior Cavalier squad. The duo combined for 57 of Duke’s 72 points, and a late 6-0 run by the Blue Devils proved to be the difference in the contest. Duke went on to sweep Virginia, winning the rematch in Charlottesville three weeks later behind a James Harden-esque first half from Barrett. Williamson did not disappoint LeBron James in the stands, defying gravity with the block of the year:
Feb. 12, 2019—Duke mounts 23-point comeback for the ages at Louisville
The Blue Devils trailed 59-36 with a little more than nine minutes remaining at the KFC Yum! Center—and the rest is history. Williamson and Reddish caught fire, finishing with 27 and 22, respectively, and Jordan Goldwire emerged on the scene with stifling defense to spark the offense. A Reddish triple off a between-the-legs pass from Barrett tied the game at 69 with 1:29 remaining, and Reddish followed that up with a level of clutchness Duke could have used in March, draining a pair at the line to seal a 71-69 victory.
Feb. 17, 2019—Barrett notches 4th triple-double in program history
Overshadowed by Williamson’s circus act, Barrett etched his name in the Blue Devil history books after one of the great individual seasons, which included breaking the freshman scoring record. Barrett’s most impressive performance, however, came in an otherwise insignificant blowout of N.C. State. The freshman phenom completed the fourth triple-double in program history with a pass to Williamson in the final minute. Barrett finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, becoming the first Duke player to accomplish the feat since Shelden Williams back in 2006.
Feb. 20, 2019—Williamson suffers knee injury in opening minute vs. North Carolina
It’s hard to imagine a more-hyped Duke-North Carolina game—which included a pair of top-10 teams and an appearance by President Barack Obama. Unfortunately, the pregame energy would last less than a minute as Williamson went down grimacing and split his left shoe. Williamson left the contest and limped off Coach K Court, most likely for the last time. Duke lost by 16 and would drop two of its final five regular-season contests without Williamson, including the rematch in Chapel Hill March 9.
March 2, 2019—White snaps 0-for-28 stretch from the perimeter
Remember when White went 0-for-10 against Syracuse? Well, White would not end that cold stretch for another month and a half until a 3-for-3 performance beyond the arc against Miami. After it seemed White was on his way to a breakout campaign during the nonconference slate, the Australian’s perimeter struggles were coupled with a lack of awareness on the defensive end. White’s spark off the bench was nonexistent down the stretch, and his minutes diminished in the season’s final two months.
March 15, 2019—Williamson the difference as Duke holds off North Carolina
After a perfect 13-for-13 night in his return against Syracuse, Williamson finally got his chance to battle the second-seeded Tar Heels in the ACC tournament semifinals. The 6-foot-7 forward added 31 points and 11 rebounds, including the go-ahead tip shot after an offensive rebound off his own miss with 31 seconds remaining. Poor free-throw shooting nearly cost the Blue Devils again as Barrett missed a pair at the stripe with 13 seconds remaining, but No. 3 seed Duke caught a break as Coby White’s midrange jumper at the buzzer could not find the bottom of the net.
March 16, 2019—Blue Devils cut down the nets after 21st ACC tournament title
Following a shocking upset of top-seeded Virginia in the semifinals, No. 4 seed Florida State took on Duke with the title on the line. The Seminoles jumped out to an early eight-point edge, but Jones put the Blue Devils on his back. The Apple Valley, Minn., native totaled what was then a season-high 18 points alongside Williamson’s 21 and Duke opened up a 14-point second-half advantage. The Blue Devils never took their foot off the gas, cruising to their 21st ACC tournament title and the second in three years.
March 24, 2019—Aubrey Dawkins’ last-second tip rolls off the rim in Columbia
Behind a 32-point performance from Aubrey Dawkins—son of UCF coach and former Blue Devil player and assistant Johnny Dawkins—the ninth-seeded Knights had a monumental upset in arm's reach. But on a botched alley-oop from Aubrey Dawkins, which would’ve given his team a late six-point lead, they let it slip away. Williamson’s and-one with 14 seconds remaining cut the lead to one, but Barrett corralled the missed free throw and gave Duke a 77-76 lead with 11 seconds to go. Dawkins had a point-blank tip-in at the buzzer that rolled around the rim and off as the Blue Devils escaped to the East Regional in Washington.
March 31, 2019—Barrett unable to convert at the line late as Duke falls in Elite Eight
With a trip to the Final Four on the line, the Blue Devils played like freshmen from the outset. Williamson looked frustrated after being unable to find his rhythm in the opening stanza, and Michigan State closed the half on a 13-0 run after 10 first-half turnovers by Duke. Williamson found his stroke in the second half, scoring 10 straight en route to a 24-point, 14-rebound performance. But for the second year in a row, the Blue Devils could not close out the contest. Duke could not hold a three-point lead in the final 1:30, as graduate-student Kenny Goins’ triple gave the Spartans a 68-66 edge. Barrett had a pair at the line with five seconds left and a chance to tie, but he missed the first and accidentally made the second as Duke’s season came to an abrupt end.
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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.