Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wouldn’t be shocked if the four teams at Tuesday’s season-opening Champions Classic gather again at the 2020 Final Four in April in Atlanta.
“What a great way to start the season,” the Hall of Fame coach exclaimed after the No. 4-ranked Blue Devils nudged No. 3 Kansas, 68-66, at Madison Square Garden in New York.
No. 2 Kentucky toppled No. 1 Michigan State, 69-62, in the second game of the one-day doubleheader.
“College basketball certainly did it right to have the Champions Classic as the event to start the season, to bring four of the storied programs in our country together in this venue, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Krzyzewski said. “The game certainly lived up to it. This was a terrific win for us against what I think will be a championship contender in Kansas.”
Krzyzewski snapped a personal three-game losing streak against KU. He’s 8-5 versus KU all-time, 2-3 in Duke-KU matchups contested the past 17 years against squads coached by Bill Self.
Pleased with the play of his star-studded freshman class in the season opener, Krzyzewski focused only on positives in his postgame session with media members.
Fellow Hall of Fame coach Self, meanwhile, did lament some areas of concern that caused his team to squander a nine-point second-half lead and fall to 0-1 on the season entering Friday’s home opener against UNC Greensboro (8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse).
“We were disappointed in the outcome because that was a game in which each team probably could have won multiple times,” said Self, whose squad trailed by as many as five in the first half.
“We had ourselves in a really good position midway through the second half then things got away from us and they made some big plays.”
Self said “nerves, environment and guys wanted to do well so badly,” were the main reasons for his team’s 28 turnovers (to Duke’s 16).
Asked if it was encouraging his squad only lost by two points after committing so many turnovers, Self cracked: “I guess if you are Tony Robbins you could look at it that way.”
The Jayhawks’ three-point attack was substandard as well, Self said.
KU hit 4 of 9 threes to Duke’s 8 of 24.
“We’ve got to figure a way to stretch the floor with two bigs in the game,” Self said. “That wasn’t very effective.”
It may have helped KU’s cause had senior guard Isaiah Moss been available. Moss missed the game because of a tweaked hamstring.
“He is a legitimate college shooter,” Self said. “He was a 40% three-point shooter (at University of Iowa). He’s been healthy one day since we started practicing. We’re hopeful in a week or so we can see him. He could have played. We thought it was not worth the risk.”
Looking at possible bright spots … freshman wing Tristan Enaruna scored five points on 2-of-3 shooting (1 of 1 from three) with two boards, two blocks, one steal and two turnovers in 16 minutes.
“I thought he had a great first half. He’ll be a a really good player,” Self said of the 6-8 freshman from the Netherlands. “He made a shot, a three, then a driving layup when we needed it. He’s a talented kid that will get better in time. He needs to get stronger and more aggressive.”
KU’s player of the game, Self said, was junior guard Marcus Garrett, who had 12 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes. He was slowed late after suffering cramps in his leg.
“I thought he played both ends well, drove it and got downhill,” Self said of Dallas native Garrett. “He’s our best defender regardless of position. He played well. He’d be the first to tell you he didn’t do quite enough because that’s what winners should think like. But he did some nice things.”
Duke’s freshmen — Cassius Stanley (13 points), Vernon Carey (11 points), Matthew Hurt (11 points) and Wendell Moore (two points) — combined for 37 points and 12 boards.
“I don’t think they were nervous at all,” Coach K said of his newcomers. “Part of it is we came up Sunday and we talked a lot about it. We were at the Nets facility, went to the Nets game last night, came here for shootaround and I felt a good mood. I didn’t know if it would be good enough to beat them, but I didn’t think they would be nervous. And Tre (Jones, soph point who had 15 points, seven assists, three turnovers) having the ball as much as he does helps because I think you might have seen maybe some nervousness if they had to do more with the ball instead of just reacting because of the position Tre put them in,” Krzyzewski added.
The Jayhawks arrived on Monday, a day before the game.
KU point Devon Dotson had 17 points, one assist and six turnovers in 38 minutes.
“It’s a credit to them. They came out and stuck to their game plan,” Dotson said of Duke. “We’ll look at film to see what we can improve on. That’s what we’re focusing on.”