WASHINGTON — The Duke Blue Devils believe.
They believe in their coach, they believe in themselves and believe no matter the situation, the combination of outstanding coaching and elite talent will carry them.
Are they a team of destiny? Well, no one can say for sure. That won’t be decided until a national champion is crowned on April 8 in Minneapolis.
But for the second time in six days, a Duke opponent missed a short shot right at the rim that could’ve altered the outcome.
This time, it was Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill whose shot – after a brilliant in-bounds play designed by Hokies coach Buzz Williams – didn’t fall through the rim.
Instead of overtime, top-seeded Duke won 75-73 on Friday, advancing to the Elite Eight where it will play second-seeded Michigan State on Sunday.
Right now, the basketball gods are on Duke’s side, if you subscribe to cosmic force impacting sporting endeavors.
“Well, I hope that’s the case,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But I don’t really believe that. I believe that we just play hard and you stay resilient and play until the end. We’ve had balls roll off, too.
“The game is a great game. And it has amazing endings. And the last two endings for us have been for us. But our guys hung in there until the very end in both of them. And I don’t think you’re going to have an ending that’s favorable if you don’t hang in there until the end.”
He also noted, “We had to play outstanding basketball in order to win.”
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You may also think karma is bound to catch up with Duke at some point during the NCAA tournament.
Or perhaps you see Duke’s talented freshmen – Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Tre Jones – and realize they’re capable of winning a national title despite heavy reliance on first-year players. The other star freshman, Cam Reddish, missed the Virginia Tech game with an unspecified knee injury.
But Williamson, Barrett and Jones did what they had to do, especially in the second half when the trio scored 37 of Duke’s 41 final points. Williamson and Jones played the entire game, and Barrett played all but 45 seconds.
Williamson finished with 23 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Jones rescued Duke’s poor 3-point shooting with a 5-for-7 effort from deep and career-high 22 points, plus eight assists, and Barrett added 17 points and 11 assists.
“We want to win,” Barrett said in the postgame locker room. “We have a will to win that unlike really any other. We just continue to make winning plays. We have the greatest coach, and that really helps us a lot.”
Asked what it is about this Duke team that has the confidence to make those winning plays, Williamson thought for a couple of seconds.
“When you’re growing up, especially for me watching Coach K on TV and you’re watching Duke, like the 2010 championship and 2015, they would call a timeout and you would see Coach K on TV, but he would have the most calm face,” Williamson said. “When you get here and actually experience it, he’s calm in the huddle. He’s like, ‘Guys, let’s go out here and get a stop. I believe in you guys. You guys have the ability to go out there and make a play.’
“When the greatest coach of all-time looks at you and tell you he has confidence in you to make a play, that’s all the confidence you need.”
It won’t be easy. It rarely is, and it hasn’t been.
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“Now that it’s March Madness, every game is kind of going to be like this, close, hard-fought games,” Barrett said. “And we somehow find a way to keep winning at the end. And it’s great. And we’re not surprised by it, but we’ve just got to keep it up.”
The Blue Devils face a team in Michigan State whose coach wants to beat Duke in the worst way. The Spartans’ Tom Izzo is 1-11 against Krzyzewski.
Sometimes, a team is lucky to win. Sometimes, it’s just good. But it doesn’t hurt to combine the two.