Duke Basketball: Lehigh and the 10 Most Disappointing Tournament Losses
When a program has as much success as Duke basketball has had over the last 30 years there is bound to be a few disappointing moments along the way. This rings especially true this summer as Blue Devil nation reels from one of the most disappointing losses in recent memory.
Since Mike Krzyzewski took over in 1980, Duke has made the NCAA tournament 27 times and won four NCAA Championships. During this run of success, the Blue Devils have made 17 consecutive tournaments (1996-2012), earned 12 No. 1 seeds, made 11 Final Fours and left fans wanting more 23 times.
With all of this success comes the burden of expectations and the disappointment of fans. Here is a look back at the 10 most disappointing losses in Duke basketball history.
10: 2005-06 Sweet 16 vs. LSU
We start with a particularly disappointing loss in the Sweet 16. Led by seniors J.J. Redick and Sheldon Williams, Duke was playing in their ninth consecutive Sweet 16.
Redick had put in another All-American season and had been named National Player of the Year after averaging 26.8 points per game and shooting 42.1 percent from three-point range. In his four years in Durham, Redick had led the Blue Devils to this point in all four but only won once.
Poised to get over the hump, Duke faced off with LSU and their enormous frontcourt of Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tyrus Thomas. Led by their two big men, the LSU defense held Duke to just 27.7 percent shooting from the field and 5-for-26 from three.
The last game of Redick and Williams' careers ended in a 62-54 defeat as Duke finished the season 32-4 and with the bitter taste of what might have been.
9: 2006-07 First Round vs. Virginia Commonwealth
The first year of the post-Redick/Williams era was a rocky one. Duke limped to a 22-11 record and a seventh place finish in the ACC. Led by Josh McRoberts, DeMarcus Nelson and a young Jon Scheyer, this was essentially a rebuilding year in Durham.
After losing the last two games of the regular season to Maryland and UNC, Duke dropped their first-round contest to NC State in the ACC tournament. Still, Duke managed to earn a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Waiting for them was Virginia Commonwealth and the nation's leading scorer, Eric Maynor. Maynor killed the Blue Devils for 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including the game-winning pull up jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining.
While this was not a season of great expectations, it was Duke's first opening-round loss since 1996 and ended the streak of consecutive Sweet 16s at nine.
8: 1997-98 Elite Eight vs. Kentucky
1997-98 was a big year for Duke. They had a star-studded lineup that featured Trajan Langdon, Shane Battier, Steve Wojciechowski, Chris Carrawell and a freshman Elton Brand. They went into the NCAA tournament with a 29-3 record and had won the ACC regular-season title.
After earning a No. 1 seed, Duke sprinted past Radford, Oklahoma State and Syracuse en route to a matchup with their old foe Kentucky. Led by Wayne Turner, Kentucky had made a similar run through their part of the South region.
In one of the most tightly contested games of the tournament; Duke took a 49-39 lead into the half. The Blue Devils kept it rolling in the second, stretching the lead to 71-54 with just over 9:30 to play.
Over the next nine minutes, Kentucky would outscore Duke 30-10 and complete the comeback when Scott Padgett hit his third three-pointer with 39 seconds to play. Leading 86-84 with 4.5 seconds to play, William Avery's half-court heave fell short and Kentucky moved on to the Final Four.
The enormity of the collapse is what makes this such a disappointing loss and the fact that Kentucky went on to win the championship that year does not make it hurt any less.
7: 2011-12 Second Round vs. Lehigh
The 2011-12 Duke team was one of the more underwhelming squads in recent memory. Despite the immense talent of Austin Rivers, the Blue Devils never seemed to put it together for long stretches of time.
After losing Ryan Kelly to a foot injury at the end of the regular season, Duke seemed to begin a steady unraveling process that began with a close win over Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament and ended with a second-round upset loss to Lehigh in the NCAA's.
Leading 30-28 at the half, Duke came out a bit slowing in the second. Lehigh managed to take the lead with 12:30 remaining at 44-42 and the teams would trade leads for much of the stretch.
Lehigh's C.J. McCollum killed the Blue Devils in the final minutes with his outside shooting. After closing the Lehigh lead to two, McCollum hit a three and a John Adams' fast-break dunk stretched the lead to 61-54 with under two to play.
The Blue Devils finished the season 27-7 without a real identity and just one buzzer-beating memory to hold on to.
6: 2008-09 Sweet 16 vs. Villanova
The precursor to the 2010 National champions, the 2008-09 team was a team full of high expectations that was constantly in flux. Gerald Henderson finished as the team's leading scorer but Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer were hot on his tail. Greg Paulus was a senior captain but was replaced by Nolan Smith in the starting lineup.
Despite the sense of inconsistency, Duke got into a groove and ended up winning the ACC tournament championship. The Blue Devils earned a No. 2 seed and advanced through the first two rounds en route to their first Sweet 16 in three years.
Standing between them and the Elite Eight was an extremely talented Villanova team. After going into the half down just three points, things got away from Duke in the second half.
Villanova scored 12 of the first 15 points of the second half and outscored the Blue Devils 51-31 en route to a 77-54 win. Scheyer and Henderson combined to shoot 4-for-32 from the floor as Duke made just 26.7 percent of their shots.
This was the fifth consecutive year that Duke was eliminated before the Elite Eight.
5: 1992-93 Second Round vs. California
After five consecutive Final Fours and back-to-back national championships, the 1992-93 team had a lot to live up to. Still featuring Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley, the reigning champions put together a good enough season to earn a No. 3 seed in the tournament.
After demolishing Southern Illinois in the first round, Duke matched up with the No. 6 seed California and their star point guard Jason Kidd. Kidd and running mate Lamond Murray eviscerated the Blue Devil defense as Kidd finished with 14 assists while Murray scored a team-high 28.
Hurley and Hill did all they could to combat the Golden Bears, but Kidd was just too brilliant to be held down. Trailing 77-76 with a little over a minute to play, Kidd recovered a loose ball and threw it at the backboard as he was being fouled by Hill. The ball somehow found its way through the net and Kidd sank the free throw to put Cal up for good.
After such a fantastic run of success—Duke entered the game with an 18-1 tournament record in the 90s—the way it all ended made this a very disappointing loss.
4: 1985-86 National Final vs. Louisville
Johnny Dawkins. Dave Henderson. Danny Ferry. All legendary Duke players that watched their best shot at a national title come up just short in 1986.
After going 32-2 during the regular season and winning both the ACC regular season and tournament championships, Duke entered the NCAA tournament on a 16-game winning streak and playing the best basketball in the country.
The streak would reach 21 as they made it all the way to the national championship where they ran into Pervis Ellison and Louisville. The National Freshman of the Year, Ellison had led the Cardinals through the NCAA tournament by averaging 13.6 points per game.
Ellison exploded in the title game, however, scoring a game-high 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds en route to the Most Outstanding Player award. Dawkins did everything he could to keep pace, but Duke fell just short and lost, 72-69.
Ferry would have three more years, but to watch a great player like Dawkins lose his last collegiate game like that was very disappointing.
3: 1989-90 National Final vs. UNLV
The 1989-90 season was a season of renewed hope for Duke. The third time was the charm as Duke finally broke through and advanced past the Final Four behind sophomore Christian Laettner and freshman Bobby Hurley.
Unfortunately, Duke ran into one of the best college basketball teams in history in the national championship. The Runnin' Rebels of UNLV were 34-5 and had one of the most—if not the most—talented teams in the country.
Anderson Hunt poured in 29 points while Larry Johnson (22), Greg Anthony (13) and Stacey Augmon (12) all scored in double figures. UNLV smashed Duke by 30 points in the most lopsided national final in history.
While this loss set the stage for back-to-back championships, getting blown out like that in a national final made this an immense disappointment.
2: 1993-94 National Final vs. Arkansas
Grant Hill took it upon himself to get Duke back to the national stage and did so in one of the most dominating runs in NCAA tournament history. Behind Hill, Duke won the ACC regular season crown and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
With the sting of the second round exit from a year before still in their minds, Duke advanced all the way to the national final where they matched up with Corliss Williamson and the Arkansas Razorbacks. All five Duke starters scored in double figures but Duke came up just short.
Williamson scored 23 points to go with eight rebounds as the Razorbacks' "40 minutes of Hell" held Duke to 39 percent shooting for the game. Scotty Thurman's three with 50 seconds left made it 73-70 Arkansas and they would never give up the lead.
The way that Duke played all season and the expectations of the fanbase at that point in time made this loss a particularly disappointing result.
1: 1998-99 National Final vs. UConn
The 1998-99 team has to be considered when talking about the best Duke teams of all time. After going 32-1 during the regular season, the Blue Devils sprinted to the Final Four before knocking off a very talented Michigan State team led by Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves.
After dispatching the Spartans, Duke ran into an upset-minded UConn team and their star player Richard Hamilton. Trajan Langdon rained in 25 points, including 5-of-10 from three-point range, but was matched by Hamilton's 27.
With a chance at the final shot, Langdon tripped and lost possession of the ball as time expired. UConn celebrated their first national title and Duke went home empty handed.
Four players from this Duke team were drafted in the first round that summer and this team's 37-2 record still stands as the best finish in Duke history. The talent level of the team—coupled with the regular-season success—is what makes this the most disappointing loss in program history.