New York – The game that started with more wins between the coaches than any in Division I history was far from an instant classic.
Duke and Connecticut combined to miss a total of 90 shots from the field, and the team that missed more of them rebounded its way to another big win at Madison Square Garden.
Seventh-ranked Duke and Mike Krzyzewski won another NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday with a 68-59 victory over No. 13 Connecticut and Jim Calhoun.
The Hall of Fame coaches set the record for total career wins in a game and Krzyzewski now has 839, fourth on the all-time list, and Calhoun still has 809, good for sixth place.
“It was a big-time game, shots were so hard to come by, open shots. Both teams are very, very good defensively and you know, you get by one guy and it’s hard to get to the bucket,” Krzyzewski said. “But we rebounded very well and we played outstanding defense.”
The Blue Devils (6-0) dominated the Huskies (4-1) in every category except shooting in extending their winning streak in the tournament to 12 games with a third straight title (2000, 2005) and fourth overall (1985).
Duke shot 28.4 percent (21 of 74) compared to Connecticut’s 37.3 percent (22 of 59), but the Blue Devils finished with a 56-43 rebound advantage, including 25-14 on the offensive boards.
“We missed 53 shots and we had 56 rebounds, you know?” Krzyzewski said. “It’s a very unusual game, but it’s a game where both teams played with a lot of heart, and we feel very fortunate to win this game and win the NIT championship.”
The victory also snapped Connecticut’s four-game winning streak in the series with the last two victories both coming in Final Fours – the 1999 national championship game and the 2004 semifinals.
It was the first time Duke won a game shooting under 30 percent since a 68-53 victory over Navy on Feb. 4, 1950, when the Blue Devils shot 27.3 percent.
“The last time we lost a game when we held a team to eight field goals in the second half and 28 percent shooting, I can’t remember,” Calhoun said. “Quite frankly, they outwilled us and did the things you need to do to win a game.”
Tournament MVP Jon Scheyer had 19 points to lead Duke, which has won five straight games and 12 of its last 13 at Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils extended their winning streak in November to 22 straight games and that will stand for 11 months because their next game is against Wisconsin on Dec. 2.
“Our defense was really great and it had to be since we shot the ball so poorly,” Scheyer said. “Defense won this game and our big guys rebounded huge for our team.”
Jerome Dyson had 15 points and Gavin Edwards added 12 for the Huskies, who beat LSU 81-55 to get to their first championship game in three NIT Season Tip-Off appearances.
“They just wanted the offensive rebounds more than us and that killed us,” Dyson said.
Duke was able to take a 37-28 halftime lead with an 8-2 run in an ugly last 4 minutes. Kyle Singler, who had his second straight poor shooting game, hit a 3 with 4:17 left that gave the Blue Devils a 32-26 lead. That was Duke’s last field goal of the half and the Huskies had just one in that span, a drive by Stanley Robinson with 51 seconds left that made it 37-28.
The second half was Duke’s in a hurry.
The Blue Devils used a 12-0 run – during which five players scored – to go ahead 53-34 with 13:18 to play. Calhoun called two timeouts in a 1:13 span in the run – he had already called one 1:30 into the half – to try and slow things down but the Blue Devils were scoring from the perimeter and overpowering the Huskies down low.
Duke finished 6 for 18 from 3-point range while the Huskies didn’t make any in four attempts.
“I didn’t want them taking 3s,” Calhoun said of his team, “I thought we had the quickness to go by them. (Duke) didn’t score on nine of 10 trips at one point in the second half but we scored on one of those. They outquicked us to the ball when they needed to get it to the offensive end, which is something that can’t happen to us.”
The Blue Devils even stayed with Connecticut in blocked shots, not an easy thing to do since the Huskies have led the nation in that stat the last eight seasons – and they averaged 10.3 coming in. The Huskies blocked 13 in each of their last two games, a total Duke managed in all five games combined. Connecticut finished with nine, two more than the Blue Devils.
“Our big guys were coming over and at least if they didn’t take charges, they were trying to take charges and they got a few blocks. They distracted the shooter, kind of like how they did to us,” Krzyzewski said of his team’s help defense. “I thought shooters in the lane today was not a good place to shoot the ball. There were a lot of distractions defensively being made by both teams for those shooters.”
Connecticut did get within single digits with a 12-2 run that made it 62-54 with 52 seconds to play.
“I’m appalled by the lack of rebounding by us as a team,” Calhoun said. “You can’t beat anybody if they get 25 offensive rebounds. If you hold somebody to 28 percent, you can’t lose, but if you give them 25 offensive rebounds and can’t make a shot, you can get some problems.”