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Duke Downs St. John's, 77-68

A tough game and a great win for Mike Krzyzewski's 1,000th victory.

Jan 25, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils center Jahlil Okafor (15) reacts to his dunk during the first half against the St. John's Red Storm at Madison Square Garden.
Jan 25, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils center Jahlil Okafor (15) reacts to his dunk during the first half against the St. John's Red Storm at Madison Square Garden.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

You have to admit that Tom Butters has some onions. Who else would have hired a guy from a military academy, off a 9-17 season?

Yet that's what Butters, who was always his own best counsel, did.

Later, of course, he also hired Steve Spurrier when no one else wanted him and found Gail Goestenkors. Clearly he had an eye for talent.

But we digress.

Hiring Krzyzewski could have blown up in his face - think about Wake hiring Jeff Bzdelik under somewhat similar circumstances. And many people for the first three seasons, or really the second two, grew concerned. Some called themselves the Concerned Iron Dukes and began to push for his dismissal.

The fourth season took care of that with 24 wins and the K era was off and running towards coaching greatness.

But it was a close call, or would've been had Butters not given Coach K an extension. He did this right after the famous "double standard" press conference in which Krzyzewski decried how Dean Smith seemed to get away with anything in a game (by the way, we're saving a great Dean story for the appropriate time).

Butters, it's pretty clear in hindsight, was a man who stuck to his principles. This irritated people at times, including Kenny Dennard, who was told he'd already had the time he needed to graduate, and Mickie Krzyzewski too, which means Coach K as well.

But there's no question whose brilliance came first. Butters tried to hire Bob Knight, who told him (accurately) "you wouldn't want to put up with me" and recommended Coach K as someone who "had all of my good qualities and none of my bad."

It was an audacious hire, one which was broadly ridiculed in the Triangle. One paper - maybe even the Chronicle - had a headline which read: Coach Who?

Which pretty much summed it up.

No one knew who he was. All anyone knew was they couldn't spell that name and...9-17?

What they missed, though, was that Krzyzewski had a winning record at Army, which is very uncommon, and that he had won 39 games in two seasons, again very difficult at service academies.

It might have been even more difficult in the mid-to-late 1970s, when there was still a broad public contempt for the military and not many young men were interested in playing basketball there.

But he made it work.

And when he came to Duke, his first team was solid, though not spectacular. His second and third teams lacked first talent then experience.

But in 1984, Butters' bet started to pay off, and it's paid off ever since.

And on Sunday, Coach K went where no D-1 men's  coach has gone before, winning his 1,000th game.

Not that it was easy.

St. John's played great for much of the game, but at the end, partly due to such a small rotation and such a tremendous effort by the Johnnies, the Red Storm dissipated. There was just nothing left to give.

And Duke, as Duke tends to do, roared to life and took over in winning time. Quinn Cook got Duke started in the right direction with a tremendous drive; Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones picked up after that to help lead Duke to the comeback win on the strength of an 18-2 closing run.

Tyus Jones had 22 points and six assists, while Jahlil Okafor had 17 point and 10 boards and Quinn Cook had 17 points.

Rasheed Sulaimon had four points and four boards (and four fouls) while Matt Jones added four points and six boards.

And then there was Marshall Plumlee, whose contribution should not be overlooked. The newly minted soldier was great down the stretch.

He rebounded, played defense and helped shut down St. John's penetration. Duke hasn't played Plumlee and Okafor together a lot, but it's worked.

The one guy who didn't do a whole lot was Justise Winslow, and that's largely because of how banged up he's gotten.

Winslow is playing with a sore shoulder and sore ribs and it showed. He's not himself right now.

Winslow played just 10 minutes and didn't contribute very much, but he's a ways from 100%.

For a large part of the game, St. John's was able to take advantage of his absence to slice and score. We're pretty sure that a healthy Winslow, perhaps working with Sulaimon, could have restricted a lot of that.

Yet in the end it didn't matter.

St. John's starters pulled 40, 38, 36, 36 and 35 minutes and by the end were gassed. The Johnnies got just 15 minutes from the bench players, including three from Joey De La Rosa, who says on the team's official site that his favorite book is Green Eggs And Ham.


After the hit he laid on Amile Jefferson, some ham, or maybe a steak might have been handy: De La Rosa, 6-11 and 250, really whacked Jefferson hard across the face, and it took the Philly string bean a few minutes to shake it off.

Amazingly, there was no flagrant foul called, nor did the refs choose to T him up for taunting afterwards.

Combine that and the blown call on St. John's last shot of the first half, when the ball was clearly still in his hand, and it wasn't a great day for the zebras.

But it was a great day for Duke and for Coach K.

He's come a long way since those early days when Duke signed him to a $40,000 dollar a year deal (supplemented by camps and TV and radio shows). He's learned how to manage a sprawling professional life with both Duke and the national team, a business life, speechmaking,  charitable work - and none of it at the expense of his family.

Partly that's because most of the family works for or with him, which is the reason why we knew he wasn't taking the Lakers job last time it was offered: there's no way to uproot his entire family, down to the grandkids, and decamp to L.A. or wherever. It's just not going to happen. He can never replicate what he has at Duke where his wife and children are all part of the operation.

So now it's 1,000 wins and soon, 1,000 wins at Duke. So, not to be trite, but what does it mean?

Well, it means sustained excellence. It means adapting to so many different things, from the early days in the ACC to the ESPN era, to conference realignment to the one-and-done era to, now, autonomy and whatever else may come.

And that, along with time management and people skills, is a huge key to what Coach K has accomplished. There's no debate about the knowledge of the game, the feel of the game, the overall coaching skills. But that by itself doesn't explain the sustained excellence.

It's an amazing accomplishment by a man who has already accomplished so much. And he still has a ways to go.