As hundreds of fans stormed the Crisler Arena floor Saturday, Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski walked off the court a loser for the first time this season.
What did one of the most illustrious coaches in college basketball think of Michigan’s 81-73 upset over his fourth-ranked Blue Devils, the Wolverines’ first over the storied program since 1997?
“They played harder than we did,” said Krzyzewski, who ranks fifth among college basketball coaches in all-time wins with 811. “I’m not saying our kids didn’t want it, but (Michigan) really played hard and well.”
Krzyzewski hasn’t had the chance to say that about very many teams. The Blue Devils handled Michigan, 71-56, last month in the the 2K Sports Classic, the game after the Wolverines beat then-No. 4 UCLA. Before this season, few thought Michigan (6-2) would manage to outplay an elite basketball powerhouse, let alone two in a single season.
With Saturday’s victory, the Wolverines defeated two top-five teams in the regular season for the first time since the 1986-87 season.
The game’s unexpected outcome could be epitomized by 3-point shots.
Duke made two in the first half.
Zack Novak made two in a 29-second span.
The freshman hit back-to-back 3-pointers with eight minutes left and brought a roaring, sold-out Crisler Arena crowd to its feet.
When last year’s team may have folded, Michigan responded with poise. The Blue Devils (8-1) took a three-point lead midway through the second half, but Novak’s two triples vaulted the Wolverines to a three-point lead of their own.
“It felt great,” said Novak, who didn’t start, but finished with 14 points and went 4-for-7 from behind the arc. “You get the crowd into it a little bit — a momentum swinger. I think that’s my job — come in, hit open shots.”
Novak was one of four Wolverines to tally nine or more points, including sophomore small forward Manny Harris who had 17. But the game’s standout was junior power forward DeShawn Sims.
Before the matchup, Sims had a message for his team about the competition: “They’re fast, but they’re not a Ferrari.”
Sims echoed the confidence this team has had since October. The Detroit native led Michigan with a career-high 28 points and tied a career-high with 12 rebounds, but his performance was part of a team-wide effort to put the brakes on Duke’s speed.
From tipoff, Michigan kept Duke from looking like a national championship contender. The Wolverines outrebounded, outhustled and outplayed the Blue Devils in the end.
Duke never led by more than six points, and the Wolverines held their largest advantage, 10 points, with fewer than 30 seconds to play.
The Blue Devils didn’t help their cause by attempting a season-high 33 3-pointers and connecting on just seven. Duke’s dismal performance from behind the arc allowed Michigan to successfully fight for defensive rebounds and run its transition offense.
“They’re very difficult to score against in half court,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They lock you up, make you go back door, make you dribble-drive, and we were a little better at that this time than we were last time. … Our transition offense has been very good to us this year, just like it’s one of Duke’s fortes as well.”
Sophomore point guard Kelvin Grady took control in the second half, matching the Blue Devils’ speed by finding open lanes and teammates. He finished with a 4:0 assist-to-turnover ratio.
In the game’s final minutes, he hit 5-of-6 crucial free throws, part of Michigan’s 18-for-22 effort from the charity stripe.
Following the game, Beilein said he was “stuck for words.”
“They deserved the victory,” he said.