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Top 5 Final Four games in Duke men's basketball's history under Coach K

The Blue Devils are playing in their first Final Four since 2015, when the Jahlil Okafor-led Blue Devils took down Michigan State and then Wisconsin to win the national championship.
The Blue Devils are playing in their first Final Four since 2015, when the Jahlil Okafor-led Blue Devils took down Michigan State and then Wisconsin to win the national championship.

Duke is making its 17th trip to the Final Four. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been at the helm for 13 of those, moving him out of a tie with John Wooden for the most trips to the Final Four by a coach. Ahead of this weekend's games, the Blue Zone takes a look back at Duke's best-ever Final Four games under Krzyzewski:

1991: Duke 79, UNLV 77

In the 1990 NCAA championship game, Duke lost. It wasn’t close—UNLV defeated the Blue Devils by 30 points in a 103-73 rout. Duke’s star-studded lineup that included Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley was sent home banner-less. Just under a year later, they had their shot at revenge.

The game was close throughout as the lead bounced back and forth. With just under 50 seconds to play, UNLV's Larry Johnson stood on the foul line with the Runnin' Rebels down by one. Johnson took a deep breath, hesitated, then put the ball up. His shot bounced off the rim and into Grant Hill’s arms, but that hesitation had caught Duke's Thomas Hill. He had stepped into the lane, giving Johnson another shot—and another chance to tie it. That second shot was good.

It was Duke’s turn. It took the ball down, running precious seconds off of the clock before Thomas Hill drove the ball in. The shot didn’t go, but Laettner was fouled on the rebound. He made both of his shots with ease. Anderson Hunt had a chance at the winning shot, but with two Blue Devils in his face it was just off. Duke had gotten revenge and completed one of the largest upsets in college basketball history, and was heading to a championship game against Kansas that it would go on to win.

2001: Duke 95, Maryland 84

This iconic game was the fourth meeting of the year between the Terrapins and the Blue Devils. While Duke had won two of those previous matchups, the conference foe had bested the Blue Devils by 11 points, the most Duke had lost by all season.

Maryland got off to a fast start, quickly building a 39-17 lead in the first half. By the break, Duke had cut that 22-point lead to 11. It would take just over 11 minutes for the Blue Devils and National Player of the Year Shane Battier to take their first lead of the night. Jason Williams and Battier both topped 20 points in what is still the largest comeback in Final Four history. Duke went on to beat Arizona in the championship game and secure its third banner.

1994: Duke 70, Florida 65

With a one-point lead and under 50 seconds on the clock, Duke's Marty Clark grabbed maybe the most important steal of his career. Clark ended the Gators' offensive possession and put the ball back in the Blue Devils’ hands. And what did they do with it? They gave it to Cherokee Parks, who had 10 rebounds and nine points at that point. Parks’ first shot bounced off the rim, but he corralled his own miss and put the ball in to seal the game with just 14 seconds left. Duke spent the remaining seconds playing keep-away, avoiding the Gators’ attempts to foul, and ended the game with an Antonio Lang dunk to extend the lead to five.

Though Duke was in the driver’s seat for the final minute, the rest of the game had followed a different narrative. The Blue Devils came back from a 13-point second-half deficit, led by a 25-point showing by Grant Hill. Parks recorded a double-double, including three out of Duke’s seven offensive rebounds to lead the defensive effort that sent the Blue Devils to the championship. Even though that next game against Arkansas had a different outcome, Duke demonstrated grit, perseverance and a sheer will to win as they came back from behind.

1986: Duke 71, Kansas 67

Going back-and-forth for 39 minutes, the Blue Devils and the Jayhawks traded buckets—and leads—as both teams always had an answer for their opponent. With 58 seconds remaining, the score was locked at 67 a piece. Coming out of the timeout, Duke had the ball. The Blue Devils brought it down the court, wound the clock down, and sunk a second chance basket with just 22 seconds to play.

As Kansas took the ball down to its end, one basket from tying the game back up, it was Danny Ferry who stepped up. Ferry drew a charge with 11 seconds left, regaining possession for the Blue Devils and sealing the win. It was the kind of finish that makes March so special: nail-biting, heart wrenching and all-around exciting even if you had no stake in either team. The game featured its fair share of legends in Ferry, who drew the charge, Johnny Dawkins, who scored 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the floor and an eventual first overall pick in the NBA draft in Danny Manning. Duke had just taken down a powerhouse in Coach K's first Final Four game as the Blue Devils were emerging as a perennial contender themselves. The tense final minute was the icing on the cake—until Duke fell in the championship game to Louisville. 

2015: Duke 81, Michigan State 61

The first four minutes looked like disaster. Two Justise Winslow turnovers and four straight Spartan threes had the Blue Devils clearly off balance. After just those first four minutes, the Blue Devils were down by eight. 

Duke came out of the under-16-minute TV timeout and scored quickly on a Jahlil Okafor layup. Neither team would score for the next three minutes. Then, it was all Duke. Following the timeout it went on a quick 12-2 run, taking a lead they wouldn’t relinquish—the extended 36-11 run had the Blue Devils up by 17 just minutes after halftime. Forty-two of Duke’s points came in the paint. Quinn Cook, Okafor and Winslow spread the offense, all topping 17 points. After a rocky start, the Blue Devils turned it around and outshot, outrebounded and outplayed the Spartans en route to their eleventh championship game and fifth national title.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article identified Grant Hill as a member of Duke’s 1990 Final Four team and Danny Manning as the first overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft. The Chronicle regrets the error.


Rachael Kaplan | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.

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