INDIANAPOLIS—For a time, it seemed as if Duke had the finish line in sight. But anything can happen in the Champions Classic, and the Jayhawks came around the final turn in first place Tuesday night.
No. 7 Duke fell in a late-night clash to No. 6 Kansas at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, with the Jayhawks turning a late 59-54 deficit into a 69-64 win in the first top-25 matchup of the young college basketball season. In doing so, the reigning national champions stunned head coach Jon Scheyer and company on the big stage to stay undefeated and hand Duke its first loss of the season.
"Back-and-forth game really the whole time," Scheyer said. "They have championship DNA, they've been there before. ... It hurts. That's how it should feel."
As is tradition at the Champions Classic, this matchup came down to the final minutes, with sharpshooting freshman Gradey Dick’s late 3-pointer giving Kansas (3-0) its first lead since early in the second half. Duke junior Jeremy Roach answered, nailing a triple of his own to put the Blue Devils (2-1) ahead 62-61 with just more than two minutes to go.
But in the end, it was Dick who led his team over the finish line, scoring seven straight points to give Kansas the boost it needed to overcome Duke’s stirring second-half effort. The Wichita, Kan., native finished with 14 points, with his most important contributions coming in the guts of the game.
"We actually before the game said it's going to be a game of runs," Scheyer said. "And it's whoever handles the adversity better is going to win. And [Kansas] did that down the stretch."
Trailing 33-29 after a sloppy opening half, the Blue Devils seemed to flip the script all at once in the opening minutes of the second. Duke drew a flurry of fouls to put the Jayhawks on their heels before 7-foot-1 freshman Dereck Lively II’s thunderous putback dunk gave the Blue Devils a 38-37 lead, their first since the score was 6-5. One play later, freshman guard Tyrese Proctor’s first-career 3-pointer ignited the Blue Devil faithful present in the Gainbridge Fieldhouse crowd, placing the ball firmly in Kansas’ court.
From that point on, the freshman frontcourt of Kyle Filipowski and Mark Mitchell took up the mantle for the Blue Devils, accounting for Duke’s next 10 points all alone. Filipowski, who posted team-highs of 17 points and 14 rebounds to become the first Duke freshman to register double-doubles in his first three-career games, highlighted the run with a driving two-handed slam to give the Blue Devils their largest lead yet at 45-41 with 14:54 to play, forcing a Jayhawk timeout in the process.
The freshman-fueled sequence put Duke back into the game but did not give it control for good. Instead, the Blue Devils and Jayhawks found themselves on opposite ends of the seesaw, with Duke leading 55-54 with eight minutes to play and a furious final run to come from both sides.
"Thought we came out, we were a little tentative in the beginning," Scheyer said. "I thought our guys showed great heart, great resiliency in that second half to gain the lead and really made some big-time plays. But overall, those possessions add up."
Duke and Kansas got off to a fairly even start before the Jayhawks, led by stellar offensive play from Dick and a pair of 3-pointers by Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar Jr., gained the game’s first separation. The Kansas lead ballooned to 19-8 in the early going before sophomore point guard Jaylen Blakes entered the game and provided an immediate boost, using his speed in the open court to draw shooting fouls on consecutive possessions. As both offenses awoke from sleepy starts, though, the Jayhawks took their early advantage to the locker room with a 33-29 halftime lead.
It was a sloppy affair leading up to the break, with the two top-10 squads combining for 21 turnovers and shooting a joint 3-for-24 from beyond the arc through 20 minutes. The Blue Devils were hindered by untimely whistles, tallying six offensive fouls, including a flopping foul against Proctor on an early 3-point attempt. Still, junior guard Jeremy Roach’s game-high 11 first-half points helped Duke cut its deficit to four heading into the second half.
"There's no question that's the best form of learning," Scheyer said. "Just being in these moments, there's no way to simulate it. That doesn't mean I'm happier or enjoying this loss by any means. You have to hate it, and learn from it, grow from it."
In a matchup featuring so much young talent and roster turnover, it was Jayhawk veteran Jalen Wilson who stepped into the spotlight on the big stage. The redshirt junior stuffed the stat sheet for Kansas, leading all scorers with 25 points and adding 11 rebounds and five assists for good measure, helping the reeling Jayhawks stay in the race as Duke made its move in the second half.
Duke and Kansas got off to a delayed 10:25 p.m. start in Indianapolis after the 7 p.m. matchup between No. 4 Kentucky and Michigan State went well beyond the second game’s scheduled 9:30 tipoff. The Spartans prevailed 86-77 in double overtime behind Joey Hauser and Malik Hall’s 43 combined points.
With the loss, Duke falls to 1-3 against Kansas at the Champions Classic. The two teams previously faced off at the event in 2013, 2016 and 2019, and will meet again in the 2025 iteration.
Next, the Blue Devils welcome Delaware to Cameron Indoor Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.