Cheek to cheek, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight hugged, a player and his coach celebrating a big win – one it’s safe to say might never happen again in college basketball.
The man known simply as “Coach K” became Division I’s winningest coach when No. 6 Duke beat Michigan State 74-69 on Tuesday night in the State Farm Champions Classic.
The Blue Devils gave Krzyzewski his 903rd win, breaking the tie with Knight, Krzyzewski’s college coach at Army and his mentor throughout his professional career.
With Knight sitting across the court at the ESPN broadcast table, and with several former players in the stands – many able to attend because of the ongoing NBA lockout – Krzyzewski moved to the top of the list in front of a sellout crowd of 19,979 at Madison Square Garden.
Krzyzewski went right across the court to hug Knight when the game ended. Krzyzewski, tears in his eyes, broke away, and Knight pulled him back, hands on his shoulders, then there was one final slap of the shoulder.
“I just told Coach I love him,” Krzyzewski said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without him. It’s a moment shared. I know he’s very proud, and I’m very proud to have been somebody who’s worked under him and studied him and tried to be like him.
“I’m not sure how many people tell him they love him but I love him for what he’s done for me and I thanked him. He said ‘Boy, you’ve done pretty good for a kid who couldn’t shoot.’ I think that means he loves me too. At least that’s how I’m taking that.”
Junior guard Andre Dawkins had 26 points for Duke (3-0), which took control with a 20-1 run that gave the Blue Devils a 61-41 lead with 9:17 to play. Then it was just a matter of counting down the minutes – except for a late run by Michigan State that made it a five-point game in the final minute – until the celebration could get under way.
It wasn’t the Cameron Crazies cheering their coach on after a few nights waiting and sleeping in Krzyzewskiville. But a pro-Duke crowd started to get loud as the Blue Devils took control in the second half, as well as the fans from Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas and a bunch of regular old New Yorkers including filmmaker and New York Knicks fan Spike Lee.
“The basketball gods are good … they put two guys who’ve done a lot in the game together, special moments, and tonight is another one of those special moments,” Krzyzewski said of Knight’s presence at the historic game.
The former players in attendance read like a Who’s Who of great college basketball players in the last three decades.
And they were all there for one reason.
“I can’t say I’m surprised because I saw firsthand the level of preparation, the level of passion he put into his program every single day,” said Shane Battier, who won a title with Krzyzewski. “I know if you gave him enough opportunity he’d give Bobby Knight a run for his money. It’s just amazing to be here on this night to see the culmination of this work.”
Like many others, Battier doesn’t think Krzyzewski will be done adding to the win total for several years.
“He’s ageless. He looks great. He looks the same as when I was a freshman,” Battier said. “There’s no reason to think he won’t be around for many years to come.”
Dawkins, who had six 3-pointers, and Ryan Kelly hit 3s to start Duke’s big run. As Michigan State (0-2) kept missing shots down low, Seth Curry hit another 3 for Duke and then the Blue Devils closed the run by making 6 of 6 attempts at the free throw line.
The Spartans kept Krzyzewski coaching to the final minute. They finally started hitting shots and forcing turnovers to close to 74-69 with 12.9 seconds left.
Curry had 20 points while Kelly added 14 for the Blue Devils, who were 10 of 21 from 3-point range.
“It’s a special moment,” Krzyzewski said of his family and former players being there. “At halftime I wasn’t sure we were going to have this moment. We beat a really good team, and I’m glad now we can just move on and just develop our team.”
Krzyzewski used the New York Yankees to explain how hard it is to keep a program on top because of players changing every four years, or even earlier with the NBA draft looming overhead.
“We don’t have Jeter or Rivera for 15 straight years and you have to do it in intense competition in a great school,” he said. “We never have problems because usually we can develop a team. They want to be one, and I don’t have to fight that which is great.”
Keith Appling had 22 points for Michigan State, and Brandon Wood added 15. The Spartans finished with 21 turnovers.
“I was in a no-win situation,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I was either going to be the guy who threw the ball to Henry Aaron for the record breaker of the guy who shot Bambi.”
Krzyzewski’s latest win had a very similar plot to the previous 902 as the Blue Devils were patient in a spread offense that got them open 3s and they moved the ball around against a tired bunch of Spartans and finally found a way to the free throw line.
The Blue Devils finished 30 of 41 from the line.
Krzyzewski moved to the top of the list in his 37th season, all but five at Duke. He also coached at West Point, his alma mater where Knight molded a point guard into a coach for the ages.
Knight won his 902 games in 42 seasons, six at Army, 29 at Indiana and seven at Texas Tech. Krzyzewski has four national championships while Knight has three.
Krzyzewski and Knight both led the United States to an Olympic gold medal, Knight in 1984 and Krzyzewski in 2008. Coach K will have a chance at a second gold when he leads the team of NBA players again in London next summer.
Another number they both had in common was high graduation rates throughout their careers.
Duke led 34-33 at the end of a sloppy first half. The Blue Devils were 6 of 11 from 3-point range while the Spartans were just 2 of 6. Michigan State was able to offset 11 turnovers by dominating inside, outscoring the Blue Devils 16-4 in the paint, including a 6-1 advantage in second-chance points.
Duke is 26-15 all-time, including a 21-7 mark under Krzyzewski, at Madison Square Garden and the Blue Devils have won 12 of their last 14 there. Under Krzyzewski, Duke is 453-71 in non-conference games.
“I know I’m a very good coach and I get really good guys and then it’s up to us to fight like hell to win,” Krzyzewski said.