Duke Basketball: Inside the Blue Devils’ two minutes of Hell

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Following a second-straight loss for the Blue Devils, Duke has fallen to #8 in the most recent AP Poll.

After their second loss in a row, it is time to talk about what we saw against Louisville on Saturday night and what it could mean for Duke moving forward. Initially it appeared as though we could have had a repeat of last year, with the Blue Devils fighting themselves back into the game after falling behind big early on. The difference this season? Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish weren’t coming through the tunnel, and there would be no spectacular finish for the Devils on this January night. Instead, the Duke fan base was forced to watch two of the worst minutes I have ever witnessed in my Blue Devil fandom—spanning Coach K’s entire career. Some would say what we endured could be referred to as “Two Minutes of Hell” (not to be confused with the “40 minutes of hell” that robbed Duke of it’s third banner in four years back in 1994). With that being said, let’s break it down.

In a game where Duke played from behind and found themselves down 15 points in the first half, it appeared with two minutes left that the Devils would make one of their signature runs to the finish and defend their home court. What happened, though, was that the choices that followed would lead to the aforementioned “Two Minutes of Hell,” making any self-respecting Duke fan shake their head in disbelief. The disastrous sequence went as follows:

  • 2:01 — defensive stop for Duke down 73-70, Louisville
  • 1:49 — five-out ISO for Tre Jones, missed difficult shot, still down 73-70
  • 1:16 — defensive stop for Duke, score remains 73-70
  • :53 — still in five-out and ISO for Jones, fires up a contested three with eight seconds on the shot clock, score 73-70
  • :25 — ball is stripped away by Jack White, Louisville leads, 73-70
  • :19 — long three-pointer air-balled by Cassius Stanley, essentially ending the game
  • :10 — just to ensure defeat, Jones dribbles into traffic and turns it over so that Louisville can seal the deal
  • :00 — FINAL: 79-73, Louisville wins

Four Observations from the final two minutes:

  1. Tre Jones is who I thought he was. Tre is a poised, pass-first, defensive-minded floor general in his second year of college basketball. He is not Jay Williams, Nolan Smith or Johnny Dawkins (look him up kids, he was a killer). Tre certainly has the ability to get a good shot in spots where we need it, but the answer to our late-game troubles can’t be ISO “Kobe” ball with Jones. Tre is the most important piece to our success the remainder of the season, but not necessarily by taking games over.
  2. Coach K forgot more about basketball before his morning coffee today than I will ever know. However, I cannot figure out why he chose to keep Vernon Carey, Jr. on the bench during the final two minutes of the game. Carey did have four fouls but at that point, but in a game that close and that close to the end, there was no reason to save the final foul. After decades of watching Coach K teach, coach, and mold young men into champions, I am trusting that he is painting on a bigger canvas than I can see in making that decision.
  3. The proverbial “sky” is not falling. January is historically shaky for championship-level Duke teams. I remember sitting in a bar at a ski lodge in January of 2010, watching Duke seem to give up and lose against Georgetown. Coach K made an adjustment by putting the ball in Scheyer’s hands and Zoubek in the starting line up. Two months later we cut down the nets. He holds the record for all-time wins for a reason, and is at his best when he is solving problems and waking his team up.
  4. Even though he took an ill-advised shot to seal the loss, Cassius Stanley showed us the star potential and playmaking that I called for in my previous article. This was a very bright spot in what was otherwise a maddening game. Stanley finished the game with 24 points and 11 rebounds. There were times during the game when he appeared to be alone in his fire and passion to compete and knock back Louisville’s attack. That was a very exciting sign of things to come with Stanley.

As the evening came to a close, Coach K stepped to the podium to take questions. You could sense his inner Bobby Knight wanting to come out, but of course the GOAT is too classy to lose control. That being said, he did leave with a parting shot to the enemy just down the road in Chapel Hill: “We lost…and I never throw my own team under the bus,” of course referring to earlier comments by UNC’s Roy Williams. Even after a second-straight loss, things remain very interesting in Durham.