NEW YORK—Not many opposing head coaches can overshadow Mike Krzyzewski.
The accolades for the Duke head coach are endless, and his top-ranked team attracts an awestruck crowd wherever it goes. But for one night, all eyes will be on the man coaching against Krzyzewski. Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing will roam the sidelines of the Madison Square Garden court that he dominated as a New York Knick for nearly two decades.
After Ewing and Krzyzewski led their respective squads to victory Thursday night in the 2K Empire Classic semifinal—the Hoyas upset No. 22 Texas 82-66 and the Blue Devils steamrolled California 87-52—their teams will face off in the tournament’s championship Friday at 7 p.m. The pair of head coaches have a relationship dating back to their time together with the 1992 ‘Dream Team’, but Krzyzewski will be tasked with outdueling his friend in front of a crowd that worships Ewing.
“Patrick and I are really close friends. I love him,” Krzyzewski said. “I think he’s done a great job.... You have two storied programs and schools playing in the championship. That’s a really cool thing.”
If Duke (5-0) or anybody else in the arena forgets Ewing’s background, they’ll be suddenly reminded if they look up—Ewing’s No. 33 Knick jersey hangs from the Madison Square Garden rafters, commemorating his storied career in New York, where he still holds the Knicks’ all-time scoring, rebounding and blocks record.
The novelty of returning to his own stomping grounds has started to wear off on Ewing, though his Georgetown team will certainly enjoy a home-court advantage of sorts.
“I’m used to it now because this is my third year,” Ewing said. “And I’m not going against [St. John’s head coach and fellow Dream Team member Chris Mullin] anymore. It’s always great to come back to New York. This is still my home. I still have a lot of fans here, still have a lot of family here and still have a lot of supporters here.”
Ewing took over the head coaching position for the Hoyas (4-1) two years ago and returning the program to national relevance has been a slow process. In his first two seasons, Ewing has led his teams to a subpar 34-29 record, but Thursday’s convincing win against the Longhorns marked one of the high points of his tenure.
Against Texas, impressive play from Georgetown’s guards paced the team, with James Akinjo putting up 14 points and six assists on a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line. The high-flying Mac McClung scored 19 points of his own, his second straight strong scoring output.
Unfortunately for Akinjo and McClung, Duke’s backcourt prides itself on shutting down opposing guards. Sophomore point guard Tre Jones’ defensive prowess is well-noted, but Wendell Moore is also making a name for himself on that end of the floor, holding California leading scorer Matt Bradley to just seven points Thursday.
Moore’s appearance in the starting lineup against the Golden Bears was his first of the season, coming on the same Madison Square Garden floor that he struggled on during his collegiate debut against Kansas, turning the ball over four times on an inefficient 1-of-6 line from the field.
“I used it as redemption,” Moore said. “Coming back to the Garden, I wanted to show that I can do a little bit. Coming out here, it felt great being back.”
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Though the Blue Devils are still heavily favored against the Hoyas—ESPN gives Duke an 82.4 percent chance at winning Friday—the matchup still has Krzyzewski and his team excited.
“It’ll be a hell of a game tomorrow night,” Krzyzewski said. “Some of the best games in the last three or four decades have been Duke-Georgetown games. I really respect the heck out of what [former Georgetown head coach John Thompson] built there and now what Patrick is doing.”