From GoDuke the Magazine, Issue 10.7
The most prolific basketball comeback in the Duke record books has certainly stood the test of time. Way back in December of 1950, the Blue Devils trailed Tulane by 32 points in the first half of a Dixie Classic contest in Raleigh before staging a monumental rally that led to a 74-72 victory. That stood as the biggest comeback in NCAA history for 67 years, until Drexel rallied from 34 points down to beat Delaware last season.
On Feb. 12 of this season, the Blue Devils posted the largest comeback of the Coach K era when they overcame a 23-point deficit at Louisville. Duke trailed 59-36 with under 10 minutes to play after shooting just 2-of-17 to start the second half. The Devils were still behind by 19 with 6:30 to go before going on a 21-4 run to make it a one-possession game at 66-64. A zone press defense spearheaded by Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire caused havoc, while Cam Reddish nailed several key shots as Duke pulled out a 71-69 win. A Reddish 3-pointer with about 90 seconds left tied the score, and he hit two free throws with 14 seconds left for the winning points.
“The Louisville game was crazy really, because it shows the extremes of emotions of performance that a human being can have in a short period of time, or a group of human beings,” coach Mike Krzyzewski explained. “Basically for 30 minutes of the game, Louisville outplayed us. We were physically and mentally ready to play the game but not emotionally ready to play the game, and emotion carries you to a high level. With their crowd, and they’re really good, they took it to us.
“Before the 10-minute mark, the one kid who had shown some life for us was Javin DeLaurier. He made about three plays, took a charge, got a loose ball, and that was kind of the start of it. Then in the last nine-and-a-half minutes we started pressing and Jordan Goldwire gave us a huge lift. It was spectacular, and the last nine-and-a-half minutes had to be spectacular to overcome how poorly we had played for 30 minutes. That’s what makes it such a crazy game for us. We went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs within that 40-minute period. But a great comeback and a great win for us.”
Krzyzewski was particularly interested in analyzing the emotional aspect of the performance, as it came during a grueling stretch of the season for the Blue Devils, one in which his team had just won at Virginia three nights before and would play four nationally-ranked opponents over a six-game span.
“A number of our kids are going through February for the first time, and February can be a desperate month,” he said. “We are one of the teams that people really focus on because it can do wonders for their program or their resume for getting into the tournament this year, and you have to match that. You have to match that level of emotion. So how do you prepare for that? That’s one of the things we’re talking to our team about. That emotional element has to be there. That’s why what Javin did for a few plays and what Jordan Goldwire did over the last eight minutes was provide emotion. And then it caught fire, and emotion can do that.”
For context, here are a few other times where the Blue Devils caught fire and achieved major comebacks during the Coach K era:
1998: One of the most memorable rallies in school history came on Steve Wojciechowski’s Senior Day vs. North Carolina. The Blue Devils trailed by 17 in the second half before charging back to win 77-75 and give Coach K his 500th victory.
2001: Two mega-comebacks against Maryland… first the Miracle Minute where the Devils erased a 10-point deficit in the final minute and won in overtime, then later at the Final Four when Duke came back from 22 points down to win by 11.
2003: Duke trailed NC State by 15 in the second half of the ACC Tournament title game before freshman J.J. Redick got hot (23 points in the final 10 minutes, 30 for the game) and led the Blue Devils to the championship.
2011: In the home game with UNC, the Tar Heels were in command by 14 at halftime, before Duke rolled to a 50-30 second half and claimed the victory, with Nolan Smith starring on a 34-point performance.
2012: Two big rallies against the neighbors, overcoming a 20-point deficit at home to beat NC State as Seth Curry led the attack, then getting past a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes at UNC to win on the epic Austin Rivers buzzer-beater.
2015: Two impressive rallies for the eventual national champs, with Tyus Jones scoring nine straight points to help Duke get past a 10-point deficit in the last four minutes vs. UNC, a game the Devils pulled out in overtime; and with Duke scoring on 14 of its last 15 possessions to knock off undefeated Virginia in Charlottesville, after the Cavaliers had opened up an 11-point lead midway through the second half.
2018: Comebacks became a bit habitual, beginning at Portland in the PK80 tourney, where the Blue Devils came from 16 down against Texas to win in overtime, and from 17 down against Florida to claim the championship. During the ACC season, Duke tossed 19 turnovers in the first 29 minutes at Miami and trailed by 13, before going on an 18-0 run behind Gary Trent Jr.’s 3-point shooting (30 points) to grab a road win on ESPN’s Big Monday.