Duke and Princeton renew their hoops rivalry this Tuesday after a gap of eight seasons.
The two academic heavyweights have met 19 times on the court and it’s been pretty one-sided. But Princeton figures into Duke hoops history more than you might think.
The Princeton win came back December 12, 1981, Mike Krzyzewski’s second season at Duke. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that this team was arguably the worst in Duke history and this outing proves it as much as any of Duke’s 17 losses that season. Playing at home, Princeton toasted the Blue Devils 72-55. It was 36-20 at halftime. Tom Emma led Duke with 14 points but Duke allowed the Tigers to shoot 55.8 percent from the field.
Princeton was led by Craig Robinson’s 22 points and eight rebounds. Robinson later became a successful college coach but perhaps is better known as Michelle Obama’s brother.
Princeton ended its season 13-13.
Duke and Princeton didn’t play again until 2000 but the Blue Devils are on a five-game winning streak over the Tigers, none of the games especially close.
Duke first played Princeton in 1936, following up with games in 1939 and 1940. That 1940 game was not just business-as-usual. It took place on January 6 and was the first game played at the brand-new Duke Indoor Stadium.
It’s hard to visualize now, but the facility known now known as Cameron Indoor Stadium was a modern marvel back in 1940. The 400-thousand-dollar facility seated 8,800 and was the largest such facility in the south. Duke officials were told that it was much too large for any rational usage but they had more vision than the Philadelphia firm that designed it.
Not surprisingly, a big tipoff was planned, dignitaries, speeches, ceremonies, the whole nine yards.
And then the lights went out. Seriously. A blown fuse.
Ten minutes later the lights came back on.
Duke was pretty good in 1940. Under Eddie Cameron, they ended the season 19-7.
Princeton was 14-8.
Duke controlled the game, winning 36-27. Duke junior Glenn Price scored the first point, a foul shot and then added the first field goal notched in Cameron. Price led everyone with 13 of the 399 points he would score in 58 Duke games.
Duke and Princeton didn’t meet again until 1952 but their next important meeting took place at Madison Square Garden, on March 8, 1960.
Princeton had captured the Ivy League title, going 11-3 in the conference and earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The ACC had a different route to the NCAAs, a three-day, winner-take-all tournament to decide the league’s sole NCAA representative.
Duke had never won one of these. They had finished first in the ACC regular season in 1954 and 1958 but lost in the tournament semifinals both seasons.
Duke did get a spot in the 1955 NCAA Tournament, when they lost to NC State in the tournament title game. The Wolfpack were on probation for recruiting violations and the runners-up took their place.
But Duke lost its first NCAA Tournament game, 74-73, to Villanova.
Thus, Duke went into the 1960 season with zero NCAA Tournament wins and zero ACC Tournament titles.
And Vic Bubas’ first Blue Devils team didn’t seem like a good bet to end that streak. A junior-led lineup wobbled to the finish line 7-7 in the ACC, 12-10 overall, with eight of those losses by double digits.
But the Blue Devils caught fire in the ACC Tournament, upsetting North Carolina in the semifinals and Wake Forest in the title game.
The Duke-Princeton matchup had an interesting sidebar. The 33-year-old Bubas was in his first year as head coach. Princeton was coached by 59-year-old “Cappy” Cappon, in his 27th season as a head coach, the final 20 at Princeton.
Cappon would die of a heart attack in the middle of the following season.
The youngster schooled the veteran that night in the Garden. Princeton ran a motion offense they called the “five-man-weave.” But Duke’s superior athleticism forced Princeton into turnovers. Duke led 41-26 at the half and cruised to an 84-60 win.
Doug Kistler, a sweet-shooting 6-9 junior led Duke’s first NCAA Tournament win, with 26 points.
Classmate Howard Hurt added 16 points, John Frye 15. In fact, Duke’s juniors scored 76 of Duke’s 84 points.
Duke added a win over St. Joseph’s before losing to NYU in the East Region title game.
But Princeton did have one big win over Duke in the 1960s. Bill Bradley was one of the nation’s top prep prospects in the class of 1961 and his commitment to Duke was a big deal, even in an era that barely paid attention to recruiting.
There was no national letter of intent in 1961. But Bradley signed institutional letters with Duke and Bubas assumed he was coming until the first day of freshman orientation, when Bradley’s father called Duke and told them his son was going to Princeton.
Bradley later explained the defection as a result of a summer visit to Europe, which led to an interest in European studies, which led to a desire to attend Princeton and its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
It actually gets worse. Bradley had taken Duke’s last available scholarship, which meant Bubas had to turn down Fred Hetzel, when Hetzel expressed an interest in attending Duke.
Hetzel went on to become an All-American at Davidson.
Bradley actually played one game at Duke, as a sophomore. Duke beat Princeton 85-74. Bradley scored 24 points. Jeff Mullins and Art Heyman led Duke with 28 and 27 points respectively.
Duke did pretty well without those three years from Bradley, 73-13, with two Final Four appearances.
But had Bradley not reneged on his commitment, he would have overlapped with Heyman for one year, Mullins for two, Jack Marin for two and Bob Verga for one.
Be still, my beating heart.
Perhaps the greatest what-if in Duke history.
Bubas went on to beat Princeton two more times, including an 81-62 win over the Geoff-Petrie led Tigers in December 1968 that propelled Duke into the top 10 for the final week of his career.
Bucky Waters, Neil McGeachy and Bill Foster (three times) kept the winning streak going throughout the 1970s.
So, yes, Mike Krzyzewski is the only one of seven Duke coaches to have gone up against Princeton to have a loss.