Another painful farewell for Coach K and his Blue Devils

As was the case a week earlier in his final home game, the Blue Devils couldn't deliver a victory in their coach's final ACC Tournament appearance

Coach Mike Krzyzewski walks off the court for the final time at an ACC Tournament along with player Wendell Moore Jr. after Saturday's 82-67 loss to Virginia Tech (PJ Ward-Brown/North State Journal)

NEW YORK — For the second time in a week, the Duke basketball team had a chance to send coach Mike Krzyzewski out a winner.

For the second time, it came up short.

Just as they did seven days earlier against North Carolina in their Hall of Fame coach’s farewell game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils walked off the court dejected Saturday after suffering an 82-67 defeat at the hands of Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament championship game at Barclays Center. 

There wasn’t a net-cutting ceremony, at least one in which they participated. Or any emotional tributes to their retiring leader. There were only pained looks of frustration as Krzyzewski walked off the court for the final time at a tournament he’s won 15 times under a shower of Hokie orange confetti.

“Obviously it’s extremely disappointing,” said wing guard Wendell Moore Jr., who had 11 points and a team-leading six rebounds in the loss. “We came down here to ultimately win a championship. We fell short of our goal, but at the end of the day, I’m proud of our guys by the way we fought. 

“We’ve had three hard, tough games against probably three of the top five teams in our conference. Every time we play these teams, they play us hard every time, and I’m proud of the fight that our guys showed.”

Duke was beaten 94-81 by the rival Tar Heels in Coach K’s highly anticipated and emotional final game at Cameron last Saturday.

Although the result and the margin of defeat were similar this time, Moore said there was little resemblance between that defeat and this loss to the Hokies.

“I think we’re a lot more mature team,” he said. “You saw last Saturday how young we were. I feel like this week we’ve really grown up. Over the past few days we had a couple meetings, a lot of hard practices and it kind of turned us into men over the past couple days.”

In between the two losses, the Blue Devils (28-6) earned a hard-earned quarterfinal victory against Syracuse before rallying in the second half to beat Miami in Friday’s semifinals.

Duke players show their disappointment as the final seconds tick off the clock at the ACC Tournament at Barclays Center on Saturday. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

Rather than focusing on the way the tournament ended and the disappointment of not being able to hang another championship banner from the rafters of Cameron before he leaves, Krzyzewski chose to stress the positive by deflecting attention to the big picture and what his team still has in front of it in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

It’s the same approach he took with Moore, center Mark Williams and the freshmen Paolo Banchero, A.J. Griffin and Trevor Keels and the rest of his team in the locker room immediately after the game.

“These kids have done a great job,” Krzyzewski said. “We start three freshmen, two of them are 18 years old. They’ve won 28 games. They’ve won the (ACC) regular season and they’re going to be a top-three (NCAA Tournament) seed. They’ve had a fantastic year. I’m proud of them.

“Everyone punches the ticket and you’ve got a place in line. We’ll find our place in line (when the NCAA bracket is announced Sunday). Ours will be a decent one, then you’re 0-0 and you go for it.”

The pressure, however, only figures to mount as the Blue Devils face their final opportunity to send the winningest coach in college basketball history out a winner.

Or will it?

To hear Krzyzewski explain it, nothing can possibly top the pressure his players faced for the circus that surrounded last Saturday’s game at Cameron.

“I tell them all the time, don’t worry, don’t ever worry about me,” he said. “I want to be in their moment. Even in a moment of defeat, I want to be in that moment with them. If you’re always thinking about the last game or this or whatever, you can’t get into that moment. We never talk about it at all. 

“Last weekend the whole world was talking about it, so it was difficult. It was a very difficult weekend. What we’ve tried to do is just eliminate everything. It’s for these kids. These are young guys. I’ve loved coaching them and I think we can be good in the tournament. We’ve just got to keep learning.”