Freshmen key to Duke’s championship

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WITH VIDEO: This game was just what we could have hoped for in a national championship. Both teams laid it all on the line and battled until the last buzzer. Duke was able to outlast Wisconsin by the score of 68-63.  The game’s MVP was awarded to the freshman Tyus Jones.  Coach K won his 5th national championship with only eight scholarship players, and four of them being freshman.

The first half could not have been any more competitive than it was. Neither team could stretch the lead to more than a one possession game until Duke went on a 6-0 run starting at the 9:43 mark to stretch the lead to 23-16. The Badgers then stormed back with a 7-0 run capped by a Frank Kaminsky and-1 to take the lead at 24-23.

After 13 lead changes and 3 ties, the teams headed to the locker room all knotted up at 31.

The second half was just as competitive, there were just much fewer lead changes. In fact, there were only two.  Wisconsin came out of the gate hitting its shots, but we knew Coach K and company were not going away quietly.  Foul trouble on big man Jahlil Okafor looked like it would hurt Duke, but after the Blue Devils claimed the lead, the lead never changed hands.

Wisconsin battled and the Naismith Player of the Year, Kaminsky, never gave up and finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds.  Give Wisconsin credit for making it to the championship.  The Badgers are still the only team to beat Kentucky, right?

Turning Point

Duke trailed 58-56 with 4:25 left in the game.  Then the freshman Jones rose up and buried a 3-pointer over Bronson Koenig.  This was the last lead change of the game.  Then fellow freshman Okafor came off the bench from foul trouble and hit two layups.  Another Jones 3-pointer capped off the Blue Devil 10-0 run.  Duke could have gone without another point in the last 1:24 and still would have won.  While Duke was going on its tear to assert itself as national champion, Wisconsin was falling off.  Wisconsin went without a point for 3:16, including three missed jumpers by Kaminsky.

Impact Player

With Okafor on the bench with foul trouble, somebody had to help out Jones. Grayson Allen was able to come up big when the Blue Devils looked like the game was slipping away.  The Blue Devils faced the largest deficit by either team during the game as Wisconsin led 48-39. Then the freshman, who was averaging just 9 minutes a game, nailed a 3-pointer and made an and-1 on back-to-back possessions.  He then added 2 free throws on the next possession to score 8 straight points for Duke and cut the lead to 4.

Without the spark by Allen, Duke could have let the lead grow even bigger.  Allen finished with 16 points and made 5 of his 8 shots.  Allen came into the game averaging 4 points per game.  As a matter of fact, coming into the championship game, Allen only had 18 points in the 5 tournament games the Blue Devils had played.  Every team has an unlikely hero. Tonight for Duke, it was Allen.

Final Line

Duke finished the season as the national champ with a 35-4 record.

Wisconsin came up just short of the championship, finishing with a 36-4 record.

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