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Coach K's Sweet 16: First win against Stetson in 1980

Coach K has racked up more wins than any head coach in college basketball, with his first one at Duke coming Nov. 29, 1980 against Stetson.
Coach K has racked up more wins than any head coach in college basketball, with his first one at Duke coming Nov. 29, 1980 against Stetson.

This article is the first of 16 in our "Coach K's Sweet 16" series, where we will walk back through the legendary head coach's career and recap his most iconic moments. 

Blue Devil basketball fans waited in anticipation for Nov. 29 when, for the first time, the team took the court under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Little did they know, that 1980 faceoff against Stetson in Cameron Indoor would be the start to a dynasty where Krzyzewski would become the winningest coach in college basketball history.

The teams’ coaches couldn’t have been more different—Krzyzewski, a young up-and-comer, and Stetson’s Glen Wilkes, who was in his 23rd year leading the Hatters. While Stetson was coming off a 15-12 record, there’s no doubt the crowd was skeptical of Krzyzewski’s ability to fill his predecessor’s shoes. Bill Foster saved the Blue Devil basketball name after they had slid backwards under Bucky Waters and Neill McGeachy, leading the team to two ACC tournament titles, an ACC regular season title and an appearance in the NCAA Championship game in 1978. Resigning abruptly before the 1980 NCAA tournament, Foster left Krzyzewski with a poor recruiting class and a fanbase eager for more of the success they’d gotten a taste of in the years before.

Krzyzewski’s first-ever starting lineup consisted of seniors Gene Banks and Kenny Dennard, junior Vince Taylor and sophomores Mike Tissaw and Tom Emma. Banks, Duke’s first McDonald All-American, had helped transform the program in his time there and would continue to be an offensive and rebounding force for Coach K in his final year. Similar in stature, Dennard had matched Banks' energy among arriving at Duke three seasons prior, the two becoming a duo that would lead on the court while Krzyzewski settled into his role.

The Blue Devils came out slow in the first half, turning it over during their first possession and allowing Stetson to score the first point of the competition. About a minute later, Banks pulled up for a short jumper off the dribble. As the basketball glided through the rim, Banks became the first Blue Devil to score under Mike Krzyzewski. 

The scoring didn’t end there. Emma took the ball down the court full speed to become the first Duke player to score off a fast break under Krzyzewski. Dennard didn’t hesitate to give the fans what they wanted, becoming the first of many Blue Devils in the Coach K era who would prove their dominance with a dunk.

Stetson finished the half with a 6-0 run, causing Duke to lead only 26-24 as the players returned to the bench. 

Luckily for nervous Duke fans, this was the closest the score would get. Banks tipped the ball backwards to Emma to open up the second half. While the absence of a shot clock prevented the Blue Devils from achieving maximal offensive opportunities, their lockdown defense slowed scoring on the Hatter’s end. 

Krzyzewski’s squad gradually pulled away from Stetson as the half progressed, finishing the game 67-49. Emma led the team in scoring that night with 19 points, followed by Banks and Taylor who added 13 each. 

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