Everyone has that one friend that said, “Duke is going undefeated,” after their blowout win over Kentucky in the first game of the season. Maybe that same statement was uttered after Duke embarrassed Army on Veterans Day. It also could have been claimed after the Blue Devils held Eastern Michigan to single digits for the majority of the first half of their matchup.
Duke entered the Maui Invitational Tournament as the clear-cut favorites to any expert, but as we have been shown in college basketball, anything can happen. The #3 Gonzaga Bulldogs came into the final game of the tournament and beat the Blue Devils by a final score of 89-87. Despite experts and Twitter going crazy with “How did Duke lose?” questions, Gonzaga’s win wasn’t that out of the ordinary.
Off the bat, the Zags came in with a 5-0 record, which was identical to Duke. They were underdogs against the number one team in the country but only by 6.5 points, the closest margin of any team playing Zion Williamson and company all season.
Secondly, Gonzaga’s offense coming in was just as good, if not better than Duke’s. The Bulldogs hadn’t been held to under 84 points yet this season and Josh Perkins had led the way as both a facilitator and a scorer in the teams first five games. Also, 6’8 big man Rui Hachimura has been a weapon all year, averaging 22.5 points to lead the Bulldogs.
Hachimura was part of the reason that the Gonzaga defense played well enough to win on Wednesday night. Williamson and Hachimura often found themselves against one another and the Bulldogs big man forced nine missed shots from the number two recruit.
R.J. Barrett was another huge reason for Duke’s first loss of the season. Barrett scored 23 points but made just 9-25 shots, which hurt the Blue Devils more than it helped them.
The Bulldogs took an early double digit lead which crumbled to eight at halftime, but was extended again early in the second half. As the game hit its final 10 minutes, the Blue Devils turned up the intensity and started crawling back into the game.
Williamson, Barrett, and Trae Jones snapped out of it and started putting the ball back in the basket. The trio combined for 62 of Duke’s 87 points. After Williamson made a basket to tie the game at 87, Hachimura was given the ball in the paint and scored to make the score 89-87 with 1:17. The final minute would consist of missed opportunities from both sides.
The Bulldogs had multiple chances to close out the game with free throws that they missed. On the other end, both Williamson and Barrett were unable to convert on opportunities in the paint that would have tied the game.
The Zags will improve to 6-0 on the season and will definitely be either the first or second ranked team in the country come Monday. Duke takes their first loss of their season that could still very well end in an NCAA championship appearance…. against Gonzaga.
Photo: The Slipper Still Fits