South Carolina ended Duke’s winning streak at four. Which was no surprise. Led by 1969 and 1970 ACC Player of the Year John Roche, this was Frank McGuire’s best team in Columbia. They would go 14-0 in the ACC.
Duke next traveled to the Charlotte Coliseum to take on the Davidson Wildcats. Like Duke, Davidson was replacing a coaching legend. Lefty Driesell had left the tiny college town for the D.C. suburbs and the University of Maryland.
Terry Holland replaced Driesell. Like Bubas, Driesell left his successor one truly great class. In this case it was a senior class that included center Mike Maloy, forward Doug Cook and guard Jerry Kroll. But they were augmented by Bryan Adrian, a spectacular sophomore shooting guard whose career ended prematurely with a knee injury.
Davidson was 18-3 and ranked ninth in the AP poll. They also were coming off a stunning 68-62 win over then second-ranked South Carolina.
Duke struggled out of the gates and threatened to lose contact. But Denton’s 13 first-half points kept the Devils afloat and they went into the locker room down 34-28.
Adrian led everyone with 14 points.
A 7-0 Duke run drew the Blue Devils even at 43 and the two teams had eight ties in the moments immediately following. Davidson forward Eric Minkin scored six straight points and Davidson led 63-57. Two foul shots by Denton, a long jumper by DeVenzio and a layup by Evans and the game was tied, with 1:18 left.
Davidson held for the last shot but turned it over. Duke held but Evans missed a long jumper.
The second year in a row, actually. Davidson had overcome DeVenzio’s career-high 28 points to beat Duke 88-90 in overtime the previous year.
But not this time. Blackman started the scoring with two foul shots and Evans gave Duke a four-point lead with a layup.
Duke never relinquished the lead. Denton scored inside to make it 71-67, then two foul shots for 73-67.
Duke also got an unexpected boost from Kuhlmeier, who scored four points in OT.
The final was 79-76.
Denton led everyone with 32 points and 13 rebounds. Evans added a dozen points, DeVenzio 10.
Maloy almost matched Denton, with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Adrian cooled off a little and ended with 23 points.
Davidson outrebounded Duke 54-45 but Duke held the Wildcats to 40 percent shooting, while hitting 46 percent themselves.
This was Duke’s first road win against a top-10 team since Duke beat Michigan on December 21, 1965, also in overtime; technically this was a neutral-site game but no one really thought Detroit was a neutral site.
While all this was going on, South Carolina was steamrolling the ACC. But Duke, NC State and North Carolina were all in competition for second place and favorable tournament seeding.
Duke followed the Davidson win with a win over Maryland. But Duke fell 61-57 at Virginia, essentially eliminating them from the race for second.
The Blue Devils finished with their two closest rivals.
NC State had edged Duke 77-76 earlier in the season, at Duke, a game where Duke led by double digits midway through the first half but couldn’t hold on.
This was Norm Sloan’s first standout team in Raleigh. The Wolfpack was led by Vann Williford, a 6-6, senior. Williford would average 23.7 points and 10 rebounds and make first-team All-ACC in 1970.
But Williford was just as good in 1969 and State was 15-10. The key to their improvement was a pair of sophomores, Paul Coder and Ed Leftwich, each of whom averaged over 16 points per game. At 6-9, 240 pounds, Coder had the bulk to bang inside with anyone. The 6-6 Leftwich was State’s first recruited Black player; Al Heartley was a walk-on.
State had been ranked as high as fifth nationally but was 18-4 and ranked 14th when they hosted the 15-7 Blue Devils.
Duke played some of its best basketball of the season in the first 14 minutes, indeed some of the best basketball of Waters’ tenure at Duke. The Blue Devils made everything and the Wolfpack made nothing. The 6-7 Katherman was the key. There was a reason he was nicknamed “the Rifleman.”
It was 35-17, with just over six minutes left in the half.
It was 40-27 at the half. But the teams reversed roles in the beginning of the second half.
State caught up at 53-53. Missed free throws and turnovers contributed to Duke’s apparent demise. It was Duke’s third game in five days and the Blue Devils appeared to have shot their wad.
“I was afraid that playing three games in five nights would tire us out,” Waters said after the game. “We were a super-tired ball club out there after the first five minutes of the second half.”
Somehow, Duke found its second wind. After a 6-0 State run put the home team up 61-57, Duke got a boost from an unlikely source.
Don Blackman started his first few games at Duke but lost that spot to Saunders. Blackman was a valuable reserve but never approached his prep reputation. But he converted offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions and tied the game at 61. Denton made some free throws but State scored on three consecutive possessions and led 67-64, with 2:22 left.
Evans scored and drew a foul. He missed the foul shot but Blackman tipped in the miss and Duke had a 68-67 lead. Duke got a stop and DeVenzio made two clutch foul shots.
The final was 71-69.
Katherman hit 9 of 11 from the field and 4 of 4 from the line, to lead everyone with 22 points. Denton had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Duke scorched the nets for 53 percent shooting, while holding State to 38 percent.
Williford led State with 19 points.