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“We Got What We Deserved”

Coach K was blunt and biting in his post-game comments after Duke lost to St. John’s.

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NCAA Basketball: Duke at St. John
Feb 3, 2018; Queens, NY, USA; St. John’s Red Storm forward Tariq Owens (11) fouls Duke Blue Devils forward Marvin Bagley III (35) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. 
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Duke lost to St. John’s in Madison Square Garden Saturday, 81-77, in a performance that Coach K called “disgusting” at both ends of the court.

In his post-game comments, Mike Krzyzewski was bluntly unhappy with his team. Here’s an excerpt:

“The very first thing, congratulations to Chris (Mullin) and his team. They’ve been involved in a lot of really close games in the conference. I know it’s been frustrating for them, but they came out and they were the better team today. (Shamorie) Ponds was terrific, but also, they played with an enthusiasm and a togetherness that I’m sure they liked.

“It was tough for us to defend them. I thought they made us look bad, but we made ourselves look bad. We didn’t play – we did not play basketball the first 32 minutes worthy of our program and we had blank faces, we didn’t talk, we were like five individuals out there and it was disgusting really, and no matter what we said nothing worked with our team, until the last eight minutes, then we had a chance to win.

“You can say why? I don’t know why. I do not know why. I can tell you that’s not the group I’ve coached all year, and they were a very frustrating group to coach today, because they didn’t respond to anything until the last eight minutes and that’s unacceptable. That’s unacceptable.

“You have to respond while it’s going on, at halftime, at a timeout – you’ve got to respond, and if you don’t you are into your own stuff for whatever reason that is. Whether you’re not ready, you’re sick, you’re whatever; you have to give it up. We didn’t give it up and the team that was deserving of winning won, and it made the loss, because we came back all the more frustrating. But the basketball gods understand in most cases who should win so losing when you had a chance to win after not playing well, we got what we deserved.”

As much as we enjoy the great players who have come through Duke in the last few years, there is unquestionably a trade off when you take one-and-done players over 3-4 years guys. Duke has immensely talented freshmen, but they are still freshmen. And we’ve been saying at least since 1999 that more experienced teams have a big advantage over more talented but less experienced teams.

Look at the last two national championship teams: UNC and Villanova both had teams with immense experience. A guy like Isaiah Hicks, who basically failed in his first two years, learned from it all and became key to his team’s success.

Even the greatest clutch player of the modern era, Christian Laettner, flubbed his first great clutch opportunity, a chance to beat Arizona from the line (after the game, law school alum and former President Richard Nixon consoled him and told him better things were in store).

In 2015 Duke won not because it had three one-and-dones but because it had three highly experienced leaders in Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, and a freshman point guard in Tyus Jones who was absolutely brilliant.

Duke in this game was anything but brilliant. The Blue Devils did mount a comeback late but before that, there was a lack of communication and cohesion on the court.

As we said in our preview for this game, St. John’s has a gifted pair of backcourt defenders who would work hard to turn Duke over.

Well they succeeded: Duke had 12 in the first half and finished with 18. Every starter except for Wendell Carter finished with at least three (Carter limited his to one) and Marvin Bagley had six alone.

Every starter also finished with at least three fouls and Carter and Bagley had four each.

Speaking of Bagley, we said in the beginning of the year that his major weakness was being thin and that’s being attacked nightly now. He’s being guarded aggressively, bumped held and hacked, and you can see it now with how many shots he’s having to adjust near the basket. There’s not a huge cost to pay since he’s not a great free throw shooter.

We’re sure the communication complaint goes to everyone and that includes Carter, but we can also say this: Carter alone showed significant toughness and fortitude. He finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks.


Somehow Duke allowed Shamorie Ponds to get off 23 shots, as much as any two Duke players combined, and to score 23 points. If offense was bad, defense was atrocious.

We don’t know what will happen after this loss, but if the past predicts the future, some or all of the following will happen or something approximate if not the exact match:

  • Duke players will get evicted from their locker room and lose their privileged status until they re-earn it
  • Some other people, conceivably including walk-ons, will start (this is something Wake Forest fans never understood: Duke started walk-ons against Chris Paul’s Deacs because they were the only ones working hard enough to deserve to start)
  • Practice may begin as soon as Duke gets off the bus from RDU and anyone not showing the correct amount of toughness may well get booted or possible see a broken nose, a la Grant Hill.

Duke’s next game is in Chapel Hill. Our guess is that everything is up for grabs and the guys who play the hardest between now and then will be the guys who start and play the most.

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