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Duke, Texas Tech ready to battle in Sweet 16

Duke looks to advance to Elite Eight for first time since 2019

For the third time, Coach K could be 40 minutes away from the end of his career.

Mike Krzyzewski will be retiring at the end of this season, and it’s now one-and-done time in the NCAA Tournament. Duke will face Texas Tech in the Sweet 16, looking to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2019.

Last time out, Duke saw the end of its season and didn’t blink.

The Blue Devils blew a nine-point lead in the second half and saw Michigan State pull ahead by five in the waning minutes. The Spartans ended Duke’s last best shot to make the Final Four, knocking out the Zion Williamson team in 2019’s Elite Eight, and it appeared that Tom Izzo was going to spoil another party and end Mike Krzyzewski’s career.

Facing the end of the run — both for this season’s team and for Coach K, retiring once Duke plays its last game of the season — Duke fought back, with each player on the floor making key plays to mount a furious comeback and give Krzyzewski at least another few days on the bench.

“I knew we had a chance, and once we got our foot in the door, there was going to be no looking back from there,” said Duke forward Wendell Moore Jr. “Losing didn’t come up one time. In the huddle, we looked in each other’s eyes, and we knew we weren’t going to lose.”

“It’s the NCAA Tournament,” said Banchero. “The season’s on the line every single game. That’s all that needs to be said. We knew we could either lay down or we turn it up. “

“My guys were so tough,” Krzyzewski said. “The last four to five minutes, the defense was incredible. Jeremy hit a huge 3 for us, and his drives — he willed that ball in.”

Teams that mount a comeback like that can go one of two ways the next time they take the floor in the tournament. Duke said all the right things, about how the team learned from the experience and has grown up along the way. Sometimes, a gritty comeback can be a jumping-off point to trigger a run that ends in a Final Four or title.

“I love these kids,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re becoming men.”

While there are certainly signs that the win will do that for Duke, there are also signs that it will go the other way. The team spent a great deal of emotion to reach the Sweet 16, and it could be tough to refuel the tank to do it all over again.

Krzyzewski often says that coaches can’t look back or too far ahead during the season, or they’ll trip over the next game. The team saw a textbook example of that in Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor. With 96 former players in attendance and a weekend-long celebration of Krzyzewski’s career, the Blue Devils stumbled and suffered an embarrassing loss to the hated Tar Heels.

The team certainly sounded like they were reflecting on a successful season immediately after the Michigan State game.

“I’m incredibly proud of my guys,” Krzyzewski said, getting choked up. “You guys were terrific, man. I’m so … I’m really proud to be your coach.”

Also, after refusing to comment on the end of the line all season long, he seemed to be ready to reminisce a little. In addition to comparing Roach’s drive to others he’s seen at Duke — a line of questioning that Coach K usually slaps down, refusing to compare players or teams he’s seen — he talked about his five decades at Duke, his five championships and his Sweet 16s.

“I’m 75,” he added. “To have moments like that, you’ve got to be kidding me. How damn lucky can you be? I want to share it. I don’t want to sit down and say you guys enjoy it. I want to be in the party a little bit. I’ve had 47 years. Today was one of the really good days.”

Toughened by fire or mission accomplished? We’ll find out a little after 9:30 Eastern Time when the Blue Devils & Red Raiders tip off at San Francisco’s Chase Center. 

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