DURHAM — Basketball coaches are still wearing their pandemic casual clothes on the benches this year. After getting the opportunity to ditch the suits and ties last season while playing in empty arenas, most coaches have continued the practice, wearing sweat suits or golf shirts during games.
Appalachian State coach Dustin Kerns is no different. He’s been wearing polos at most Mountaineers games this season. When he led his team into Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Mike Krzyzewski and Duke on Thursday, however, he decided to suit up.
“It’s incredibly humbling to be on the sidelines with the winningest coach in college basketball history and the storied and prestigious program that he’s built,” Kerns said. “A lot of coaches are dressing down this year, but this was me and my staff (showing) a token of respect for him.”
For about 25 minutes of the game, the Mountaineers also looked the part, giving Duke all it could handle. The Blue Devils, however, pulled away on the strength of two runs to win 92-67.
Despite being undersized, App State outrebounded Duke and dominated the offensive boards, pulling down 13 of their own missed shots and a surprising 19-12 edge in second-chance points.
“South Carolina State was able to come in the other night and grab some [offensive rebounds against Duke], so we thought the opportunity was there,” Kerns said. “You can’t come in here and just play for one shot and play defense, so we wanted to crash the boards.”
App also hit the floor, coming away with most loose balls in the early going as well as deflecting a number of Blue Devil passes. Twice, once in each half, an exasperated Coach K called time out to scold his team for its passive play.
All told, App controlled about 22 of the first 25 minutes of the game. Unfortunately, the other three minutes featured a pair of dominant Duke runs.
Late in the first half, Duke turned an App turnover into a Wendell Moore 3-pointer. App missed its next shot, triggering a Duke fast break that ended in a Mark Williams dunk. Williams then blocked a shot, spurring another break that saw a Moore dunk. Paola Banchero ended the 10-0 run, spanning 1:45, by hitting a 3-pointer.
App battled back, however, trimming Duke’s double-digit lead to five early in the second half, leading to Coach K’s second time out. Then the Blue Devils went on another feeding frenzy, scoring nine points in 54 seconds on three straight 3-pointers, by three different players. All five players on the floor either hit a shot or had an assist during that run.
“They (App State) had the momentum in the game,” said Krzyzewski. “Then, we responded. We have good players and they’re really competitive guys. They’re not going to be afraid. We answered with three 3s. We did it because we played defense and we got a runout, it wasn’t from a set offense. When we play like that it’s really neat, it’s beautiful basketball. I love it, and I give my guys some freedom to do that, but they’ve got to play some defense in order to do it.”
The second run put the lead at 14, and Duke never looked back. The Blue Devils knew they’d been in a tussle, however.
“They were tough,” Krzyzewski said. “I think the score is not indicative of the game.”
“We’ll be proud of the way we battled,” Kerns said. “I learned that I have a good team and that we’ll battle”