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Looking Back: Mike Krzyzewski’s First Year At Duke, Part II

Coach K’s first big win came at the expense of a good Clemson team

Mike Krzyzewski United States Military Academy
Coach K in his Army days. Twelve years later, he would be introduced as Duke’s head coach to a press corps that was baffled by many things, not least of all learning to spell his last name.
Photo NCAA Photos via Getty Images Photo

Ordinarily, a Duke win over Clemson isn’t an eye-opener, especially in Durham, where the Tigers are 4-64, including games played in Card Gym. But under the other Bill Foster, the Tigers were on a bit of a roll. They reached the 1980 West Region title game, where they lost to UCLA. They were 12-4 and ranked 19th. One of those wins was over Indiana, in Hawaii’s Rainbow Classic. Indiana would go on to win the 1981 NCAA title. Clemson’s best player was Larry Nance, who would go on to play 13 seasons in the NBA and make three all-star games.

Duke was 9-7 going into the game.

And 10-7 coming out. Banks was a huge part of that. He helped get Nance into foul trouble early; Nance would play only 17 minutes.

But the Blue Devils also blistered the nets in the second half, getting some separation after a first half that ended with Duke up 27-24. Duke scored the first six points of the second half and built a 40-30 lead. Duke then spread the court, moved the ball and worked for easy shots.

The work paid off. At one point Duke scored on 16 of 19 possessions.

On the other end of the court Duke’s aggressive man-to-man defense held Clemson to just under 40 percent shooting.

Duke hit 58 percent from the field. The Devils went to the foul line 40 times and made 31. Clemson was 11 of 14 from the line.

The final was 75-57. Taylor led Duke with 20 points and three assists, while Banks added 19 and a game-high nine rebounds. Emma scored 13.

An oddly specific Foster acknowledged Duke’s dominance.

“It’s been 51 games since I thought we were out of a game. I’m not sure what happened out there tonight. I just can’t think of anything we did really well.”

Duke followed with a win over Rutgers before falling to Sampson and the then top-ranked Cavaliers 68-47. Duke trailed 22-13 at the half.

A Duke win over Georgia Tech and Maryland came to town.

Clemson being nationally ranked in basketball has always been a bit of an outlier. But that wasn’t the case with Maryland, not during this era.

The Terps were ranked 13th when they visited Duke on February 7. They were led by a trio of senior stars, Albert King, Ernest Graham and Greg Manning and junior post Buck Williams, a rebounding machine.

Maryland had defeated Duke 94-79 earlier that season, in College Park. Williams had 24 points and 15 rebounds, with Graham adding 23 points and Manning 20. This would turn out to be the most points Duke would allow that entire season.

Krzyzewski knew his team needed to control the tempo to avoid a repeat.

It did just that, spreading the court and trying to isolate Banks, Taylor or Dennard. But even with a slow pace leading to good shots, Duke still had to stop Maryland at the other end and that part of the equation wasn’t going so well, especially with Williams controlling the glass. Maryland led 28-22 at the half and extended the lead to 10 points on several occasions after intermission, the last time at 42-32, with about 13 minutes left.

A key play took place just before the midpoint of the second half.

A 6-0 Duke run had cut the deficit to four. Graham had led the Terps with 16 points but he also had four fouls. Driesell inexplicably left him in and Taylor fouled Graham out on a drive. Taylor made both foul shots and Tissaw tied the game at 42 on an assist from Banks.

With no shot clock, it was cat-and-mouse, with neither team getting any separation.

It was 52-52, Maryland ball, just over two minutes left, when Driesell ordered his team to spread the floor.

“I told them at that time to take a shot if they had one, otherwise they should just hold on the ball.”

With a minute left King missed a contested baseline jumper.

Banks corralled the rebound.

“That was not particularly the shot I was thinking of,” Driesell deadpanned after the game.

Maryland decided to send Dennard to the foul line but Manning fouled him so hard that Dennard was forced to leave the game. Suddath replaced him, made the first end of the bonus but missed the second.

Manning scored on the other end and drew a foul. He missed the foul shot.

Duke was down 54-53, with 17 seconds left.

Engelland missed but the 6-2 Emma grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Dutch Morley.

Emma hit 86 percent from the line that season and he was as cool as the proverbial cucumber.

He made them both.

Manning’s desperation 35-footer at the buzzer drew iron but nothing more and Duke escaped with a 55-54 win.

For the first time in Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure at Duke, the Cameron Crazies rushed the floor.

But not the last time.

Banks led Duke with 19 points and nine rebounds. Taylor scored 17.

Williams had 14 rebounds for the Terps.

“This one was just something else,” Taylor summed up. “There was so much tension in there I thought they were going to drop the bomb. When Carolina comes in here, the roof will probably get blown out.”

Ah yes, North Carolina.