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Top 5 best moments from the 2021-22 Duke men's basketball season

The Blue Devils became the West Regional Champion after defeating Arkansas in the Elite Eight.
The Blue Devils became the West Regional Champion after defeating Arkansas in the Elite Eight.

All good things must come to an end. 

Even though it ended in heartbreak, Duke had itself an incredible 2021-22 season. It won 32 games, made it to the Final Four and gave former head coach Mike Krzyzewski plenty to be proud of as he heads into retirement. It sent the Blue Devil faithful on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, with electric top-10 wins and brutal ACC losses, but at the end of the day Duke fans should view this season for what it was: a success. So, with that in mind, let's take a look at the best moments of the season.

Duke tops Arkansas 78-69 to advance to Final Four

It took the Blue Devils just about eight minutes to get going. Those first eight minutes were close as the two teams traded the lead, missed shots and committed turnovers. It wasn’t clean by any means, but it was a game, and it looked like it would be one for the full 40 minutes. Then, Duke turned on the jets. 

Wendell Moore Jr. made a tip-shot off an offensive rebound. Paolo Banchero sunk four free throws in 31 seconds. Suddenly, the Blue Devils were up by six. They wouldn’t relinquish that lead, even growing it to 18 temporarily in the second half. Duke put on a basketball clinic, dominating on both ends of the court. It shot 54.7% from the floor and 88.9% from the line. It out rebounded Arkansas by nine. And when that final buzzer sounded, it was Duke who was on top–by nine–and headed to the Final Four. 

After entering the Sweet 16 as the underdogs against Texas Tech, the Blue Devils showed the world that they deserved their second-seeded ranking–and a shot at the national title. It would be Krzyzewski’s 13th Final Four appearance, propelling him past John Wooden for the most appearances by a coach. No matter the ending of that Final Four game, getting there in and of itself is an accomplishment. It proved that Duke really was one of the best teams in the country, and that’s something that can’t be taken away. 

The Blue Devils take down No. 1 Gonzaga

The stage was set; Gonzaga was coming off of a dominant win against No. 2 UCLA. It was Duke’s first test. Can it hang with the top teams in the country? Does it deserve its top-five ranking?

The answer was a resounding yes. Instead of being blown out by 20, like UCLA had been just three days earlier, the Blue Devils kept it close the entire game that November night. Banchero scored 20 first-half points to put Duke up by three at the break. With Banchero sidelined with cramps for much of the second half, it was Moore who stepped up, scoring 16 of his own. He totaled 20 points on the day. Gonzaga’s dynamic duo of Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren put up 33 points and 12 rebounds to keep the game close until the end. 

With under five seconds left, Duke up by four, Rasir Bolton overshot a 3-pointer. The ball essentially fell into Holmgren’s arms, who jumped up and put the ball in with both hands with 1.5 seconds left on the clock. Jeremy Roach was fouled after the inbound, and though he made his first free-throw, missed his second. Timme grabbed the defensive rebound and chucked it towards the other end. The last-ditch effort flew past the rim, and with that, Duke had downed the No. 1. It would claim the top spot itself the next week. 

Wendell Moore Jr. records triple-double against Army

On Nov. 12, 2021, Moore etched his name into the Duke, and NCAA, history books. He recorded 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. A triple-double. It’s a feat that only five Blue Devils, three in Krzyzewski’s tenure, have ever accomplished. 

The 10th point came with just under 1:30 left in the first half. Trevor Keels kicked the ball out to Moore, who swished the corner three with ease. The 10th rebound was after a missed Josh Caldwell trey. Moore jumped up and grabbed the ball with one hand before taking it down the court himself. And the 10th assist? That one was to Banchero. Moore started to cut into the paint before getting the ball to Banchero under the basket, who slammed the ball in to put Duke up 18. The starters would come out at the next media timeout. 

Moore was one of 25 players to tally a triple-double this season. To put up that performance, especially in the first home game of the regular season, showed just how consistent and reliable Moore would be for Duke this season. While he didn’t record any other triple-doubles this season, he provided the experience and maturity that was so necessary for the young team, while also proving himself as a great Duke player. 

AJ Griffin scores 27 in Duke rout of North Carolina

It was the first of eventually three rivalry matchups, this one in Chapel Hill. North Carolina was unranked, already having lost six games. Duke was finally bouncing back after two ACC losses, and had just beat Notre Dame by 14. The Blue Devils were favored, but it was close. At least, everyone expected it to be. 

In reality, AJ Griffin took it as his opportunity to establish himself as an offensive force and potential NBA lottery pick, and he did it early. Forty-two seconds in, Griffin drained his first from beyond the arc. Through the first half, Griffin made five more shots from the floor. Then, he kicked it up a notch. Griffin alone started the second half with a 10-0 run, extending an 11-point lead to 21. While the other Blue Devils assisted Griffin in his offensive efforts, he led the way, ending with 27 points after shooting 11-of-17 from the field. It was his season high, and his breakout performance couldn’t have come at a better time. Duke got the dominant win against its rival, and Griffin had proved himself to his team, his fans and the rest of the world.

Duke beats Kentucky in season opener

It was a tall task for the young Blue Devils in their season opener. The group, which featured two starting 18-year-olds, traveled to New York City to play on of the biggest stages in the country: Madison Square Garden. Duke and Kentucky were ranked No. 9 and No. 10., respectively. A star-studded affair to start the season. 

Even with the bright lights and the pressure of kicking off Krzyzewski’s farewell tour, the Blue Devils' freshmen stepped up. Keels and Banchero combined for 47 of Duke’s 79 points. Keels also made the team’s lone shot from beyond the arc as they dominated the interior. While the Wildcats kept it competitive as Oscar Tshiebwe scored 17 points and grabbed 20 boards, Keels pushed Duke ahead in the second half to secure the win. 

The Blue Devils were in control for the game’s entirety, leading for over 35 minutes. Even against an older, more experienced team like Kentucky, Duke held its own. The performance sent a clear message: Duke is here, and it is ready to play. 

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