Duke overcomes rough first half to rally

Halftime encouragement instead of scolding sparks comeback

Mar 3, 2018; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (left) hugs head coach Mike Krzyzewski during the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke won 74-64. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

DURHAM — Duke’s locker room at Cameron Indoor Stadium has been the scene of plenty of halftime tongue lashings over the years.

Saturday night, against a North Carolina team that had already beaten them once this year, the Blue Devils turned in a first half worthy of words from coach Mike Krzyzewski that would rattle the walls. Duke shot 1-of-10 from three, 4-of-14 from the free-throw line, had just three assists and trailed the Tar Heels by 10.

“We just kept missing free throws, and then we missed shots, and then we just started dribbling the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “We didn’t move the ball. You could see that each kid was trying to do something on his own.”

Despite all the problems in the first half, however, no earth was scorched during halftime, and the paint remained on the locker room walls.

“We were only down 10,” Krzyzewski pointed out.

The Hall of Fame coach decided to go with the soft approach toward his team instead of scolding them.

“They’re not selfish, but they’re young, they’re just young,” he said.

So, Krzyzewski pointed out that the game was still well within reach, if they just relaxed. “I just said, ‘Look, take the pianos off your back,’” he said. “‘Quit playing with all the pressure in the world. Get a smile on your face. Just play.’

”I said, ‘I’m not going to call any plays. You hit, cut, everybody touch the ball. You see a play to make, you make the play, and get comfortable in the game.’”

The result was an emotional comeback and a 20-point turnaround, as Duke beat the Tar Heels 74-64 on Grayson Allen’s Senior Night. The win wrapped up a No. 2 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament and sent Allen, and likely most of Duke’s freshman class, out as a winner in the final home game of their careers.

“It was huge for so many different reasons,” Allen said. “Huge for our team, for the present moment, for now, and ending the regular season with a win and getting a little momentum going into the ACC Tournament, figuring some stuff out and getting it together. Huge win for our team as a group, this group’s last game together in Cameron. My last game in Cameron, I definitely wanted to win this bad. …. So many different things go into it. It just makes it an amazing win.”

Allen scored 15 points and had five steals for the Blue Devils, but it was the freshmen that led the way in the second half rally.

Marvin Bagley III scored six of Duke’s points in a 9-0 run that gave the team the lead for the first time in the second half. With 21 points and 15 rebounds, he recorded his first double-double since the first Carolina game, a month ago.

“I just tried to stay aggressive,” he said. “I didn’t let what happened in the first half get into my head. It was just attack mode — stay aggressive, keep attacking the basket, and just play with anger.”

Point guard Trevon Duval added six assists, all in the second half, and no turnovers.

“Trevon played his best half,” Krzyzewski said. “He was huge for us, huge.”

All it took was some hands-off coaching when things looked bleak.

“I was definitely a little bit worried,” Allen said, “but this team just has that resilience. I think when we get down, we play even more free. These guys love big moments.”