WASHINGTON, D.C. — After weeks of living on the edge, the Duke Blue Devils finally teetered over and took their season with them.
The Blue Devils, who had three one-point wins in the month of March and another by two points, lost an Elite Eight matchup with Michigan State, 68-67, ending their season one point shy of the Final Four.
“They played their hearts out all year,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his Duke players. “These guys have been an incredible group for me to coach, especially at this time in my career, to be around a group that you love being around every day that have accomplished so much.”
The game was yet another barnburner in the Blue Devils’ white knuckle tournament run. After a 23-point win over North Dakota State to open the NCAAs, Duke got past UCF, 77-76 when Central Florida had two potential game-winning shots bounce off the rim in the final seconds. Then Duke escaped against Virginia Tech when two Hokie 3-pointers and a potential game-tying layup all missed in the final 30 seconds.
On Sunday, however, Duke’s luck ran out. The Blue Devils shook off a shaky start that saw Michigan State go up by seven points, five minutes in. Duke built a lead as large as nine points before Zion Williamson went to the bench with foul trouble, leading to a Spartan run to close the half with a four-point edge.
Duke jumped back on top in the second half, leading by four midway through the period and by three with 1:33 left to play.
After an MSU layup, Kenny Goins hit a 3-pointer with 34 seconds left to give Michigan State the lead.
RJ Barrett missed a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left and was fouled on a drive into traffic with five seconds remaining.
With a chance to tie the game at the line, Barrett missed the first free throw.
“I was trying to miss the second one,” he said. “They weren’t in the bonus, so they wouldn’t have gone to the line if we tried to foul them.”
With Duke looking to rebound the miss, Barrett’s free throw bounced high off the rim and went in. Michigan State then got point guard Cassius Winston loose on the inbound, and he was able to dribble out the clock. Winston finished with 20 points, 10 assists and four steals and was named the regional’s most outstanding player.
“Whenever we’d get a three-, four-point lead, he made big plays, either scoring or assisting,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s the best guard we’ve played against.”
Barrett scored 21 points and had a team-high six assists in what will likely be his last game with Duke before entering the NBA Draft. Fellow one-and-done freshman Zion Williamson had 24 points and 14 rebounds.
The two freshmen also combined for 12 turnovers, however, and Duke had 17 for the game, leading to 24 MSU points. That tied for the most turnovers committed by Duke in more than two months.
“They were in the key,” Barrett said. “They ran at the ball, getting little tips and stuff like that.”
The Blue Devils’ season ends at 32-6 as Krzyzewski lost in the Elite Eight for just the fourth time in 16 trips.
“This team put itself in position to go for it,” Krzyzewski said, “and they had a chance for it. So it’s disappointing that they didn’t get there. But I’m proud of them.”