DEVILS HELD 'EM: No. 5 Duke men's basketball defeats No. 1 Gonzaga in Las Vegas showdown

<p>Freshman Paolo Banchero had a big night against the No.1 Bulldogs.</p>

Freshman Paolo Banchero had a big night against the No.1 Bulldogs.

LAS VEGAS—Blue blood vs. new blood. Paolo vs. Chet. Duke’s defense vs. Gonzaga’s offense. This game was one of the most hyped regular-season college basketball games in recent memory for a reason.

And it lived up to the hype.

In front of an absolutely electric crowd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Duke defeated Gonzaga 84-81 Friday night in the Continental Tire Challenge. This contest will be remembered for a variety of a reasons, from the record-setting attendance to the aura of the coaches on each sideline in what could potentially be their final meeting. But in his postgame press conference, Mike Krzyzewski turned the focus toward one thing.

"It was really a players game.... It was just a big-time game," Krzyzewski said. "And I love it. I just love being a part of it and seeing how players take over. The players won tonight for me. They took me across the finish line."

Paolo Banchero starred for the Blue Devils, finishing with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting in what can only be described as a coming out party for the No. 2 recruit in the country. Banchero seemed to come into the game with a fire, and after a somewhat underwhelming start to the year he firmly cemented his status as one of the best players in the country Friday.

However, much of Banchero’s production came in the first half. For a good portion of the second half, Duke’s star sat in the locker room struggling with cramps. During that time, Gonzaga started to gain momentum, with the Bulldogs holding a 64-61 edge at the under-12 media timeout.

It was during that timeout that another of Duke's stars shined: Wendell Moore Jr. 

The junior captain fired up his bench throughout the break before coming out and immediately assisting on a Mark Williams layup to cut his team’s deficit to one. The game went back and forth for the next several minutes, but by the 4:35 mark two Moore free throws put the Blue Devils ahead for good 75-73.

"I guess the PG version was just, 'We gotta pick it up,'" Moore—who finished with 20 points, six assists and six rebounds—said with a laugh regarding what he told his team during the timeout.

"Sometimes when a leader says stuff, [he] never remembers what he says," Krzyzewski added. "I remember what he said. We said be strong with the ball, right? Let's get going. We can't be giving them layups. You were saying the things I should have been saying, but when it comes from the player, it's better. 

"And especially that moment—that was critical moment. And I've been in a lot of games—we could have gotten knocked out right there. And what that kid did in that timeout was big time, was really big time."

A minute later, with the same 75-73 score flashing on the Jumbotron, the entire crowd started to stand—they knew this could very well be the best three minutes of basketball of the entire regular season.

However, crunch time began with a few ugly misses and turnovers, coupled with some missed free throws by both squads. Clearly, nerves began to take over, and it started looking like the game might come down to an extra defensive stop. That stop came with just over 30 seconds left.

After a highly-contested Jeremy Roach layup gave Duke an 80-77 advantage with 42 seconds remaining, Gonzaga star Drew Timme went straight inside on the other end to respond. But there was one thing in front of him and the basket: Williams. The 7-foot-center may not have blocked the shot, but he surely disrupted it as Timme's layup bounced off the rim, and Duke was officially in control. 

Williams impressed all night, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds and five blocks and proving himself as one of the best defensive big men in the nation on the biggest of stages.

"Mark had a sensational game.... he blocked five but he did alter [a lot of shots]," Krzyzewski said. "I wonder if there's a—there's gotta be a stat for that. Some analytics person's gotta figure that out."

Following the Timme miss, the Blue Devils just needed to sink their free throws. And that they did, locking in one of Duke’s biggest regular-season wins over the last several years.

Duke led for virtually the entire first half, but Gonzaga quickly ensured out of the break that the second period would be the kind of back-and-forth affair that lived up to the game's billing. 

Whether it was slick crossovers or ferocious blocks, both teams traded haymakers over the final 20 minutes—you’d think this was a heavyweight boxing bout in Las Vegas rather than a regular-season college basketball matchup. Every time it seemed like one team was taking control, the other would respond, and as the clock moved closer to zeroes the tension started to rise.

"It felt like a Final Four type game," Timme said. "The atmosphere was great, and it was two Goliaths going at it."

It was also clear quickly as the game began that this wouldn’t be a repeat of Gonzaga’s dominant win against No. 2 UCLA Tuesday night on the same floor. Duke led 9-8 at the under-16 media timeout, and you could instantly tell this one could go down to the wire.

The Blue Devils began to pull away out of the timeout, with a Banchero three handing Duke a 17-10 edge with 13:16 remaining in the first half. And just seconds later, Moore poked the ball loose, took a few dribbles and flew through the air for a slam that would’ve ripped the Bulldogs’ hearts out. But the ball clanked off the rim, and Rasir Bolton responded with a trey on the other end for Gonzaga to calm the momentum swing.

That sequence could’ve spelled doom for a team as young as Duke. Emphasis on could’ve.

Another Bolton three cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to one, but the Blue Devils swiftly regained composure—thanks to none other than Banchero.

The Washington native immediately took over, sinking a layup and converting an and-one on back-to-back possessions to keep Duke ahead. He followed that up with a lob to Willams, and then a three from the right wing that put the Blue Devils up 27-18 and nearly brought the house down.

Banchero notched 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting—including 3-of-6 from deep—over the first 20 minutes.

"He basically carried us in the first half," Moore said of Banchero. "I mean, we just followed his lead."

Gonzaga continued to fight for the remainder of the half, however, slimming Duke’s edge to 45-42 entering the break before the two teams went into full battle mode down the stretch.

Duke has a quick turnaround before its next contest, taking on Ohio State this upcoming Tuesday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.


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