After an emotionally charged win against top-ranked Gonzaga, Duke might find avoiding a letdown easier to manage with a Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Ohio State looming on Tuesday.
The No. 1 Blue Devils (7-0) defeated the Bulldogs 84-81 in Las Vegas on Friday before the largest crowd to ever watch a basketball game in the state of Nevada (20,389).
“Just a really big-time game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “What a great crowd. … We thought it might be a showcase game, and it was, but having this type of crowd was amazing.
“These kids are going to be playing in front of a lot of big-time crowds during their lives and their careers. We’re fortunate that in our program, we’re able to schedule some games that can produce a high level of attendance.”
The crowd won’t be as big or as rabid in Columbus, Ohio, as what Duke experienced in Sin City, but the Blue Devils will be facing an Ohio State team (4-2) desperate to make a statement after a rough start.
Over the past three games, the Buckeyes lost at Xavier 71-65, then downed Seton Hall 79-76 on a last-second 3-pointer by Meechie Johnson before losing on a buzzer-beater to No. 23 Florida, 71-68. The latter two games were at a tournament in Fort Myers, Fla.
Playing the Blue Devils leaves Ohio State with no time to wallow in self-pity or doubt.
“I think we’ve got a pretty tough-minded group,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “At least I feel like that. I think we can get better in that area, but I feel like we’ve made some progress.
“We have not been perfect. There’s a lot of things we have to continue to grow in and work on, but we’ve had some tough-mindedness to us.”
Krzyzewski feels likewise after the gutty win vs. Gonzaga.
“I love what my guys did,” he said. “I love my team.”
He particularly liked how captain Wendell Moore Jr. took over during a timeout after Gonzaga had taken the lead in the second half.
“Sometimes when a leader says stuff, he doesn’t remember what he said,” Krzyzewski said. “I remember what he said. He said, ‘Be strong with the ball. Let’s get going. We can’t be giving up layups.’
“He was saying the things I should’ve been saying, but when it comes from a player, it’s better. Especially that moment — that was a critical moment.”
Duke could take a lesson from Florida by employing pressure defense vs. the Buckeyes, who committed a season-high 18 turnovers that led to 22 points by the Gators.
“Down the stretch we just didn’t execute like we wanted to,” Ohio State guard Jamari Wheeler said.
The Blue Devils lead the series with the Buckeyes 4-3 by winning the most recent meeting, 73-68, in Durham, N.C., in 2012.
Duke is 19-3 all-time in the Challenge while the Buckeyes are 9-11 with victories over North Carolina and Notre Dame the past two events.
Holtmann will coach against Krzyzewski for the first time in his career — and the last as well if the teams don’t meet in the NCAA Tournament as Krzyzewski is retiring after this season.
–Field Level Media