Duke had all the cards stacked against it. When it was 31-31 at halftime, the fact that it was a 20-minute game worked in Wisconsin’s favor. The Badgers took full advantage, running their lead out as far as nine as they controlled the first 10 minutes after the intermission.
Then the switch flipped for the Blue Devils, who had not faced such adversity to this point in the NCAA Tournament. That their rebound was largely due to a deep bench that is largely unrivaled in college basketball is all too fitting. Grayson Allen, a freshman who exploded for 16 points to carry Duke out of its deficit and finish second in scoring for his team, was an instrumental part of a comeback after the game threatened to get out of control when Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow both found themselves in foul trouble.
Tyus Jones ended up as the dominant part of the championship squad, finishing with 23 points to lead all scorers on 7-of-13 shooting from the field — including two three-pointers. Jones drained all seven of his opportunities at the charity stripe to personally contribute more than one-third of the Blue Devils’ points on the night.
With the victory Mike Krzyzewski takes his fifth NCAA championship as the head coach of Duke, passing Adolph Rupp on the all-time list and pulling halfway to John Wooden’s likely insurmountable record. On a night when his two biggest stars were running largely cold — Winslow finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, Okafor only 10 and three — Coach K managed a deep roster superbly to outduel Bo Ryan.
For the Badgers, playing in its first championship game since winning it all in 1941, it becomes a case of what might have been. Frank Kaminsky showcased his skills as the national player of the year, ending the night with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but he seemed apprehensive from three-point range despite getting numerous opportunities to let fly. Ultimately it wasn’t enough when Sam Dekker (0-for-6 outside the arc) was cold and the bench ran far less deep than Duke could present.
Another season is in the books, and the college world turns its attention to the spring term of classes. Duke cuts down the nets and Wisconsin returns to Madison ruing its missed opportunity. “I told those guys how proud I was of them,” Bo Ryan said in the end. Both coaches could hold their heads high after a physical contest that fell to the deeper team in the end.