Duke Basketball: Ranking the 5 Biggest Blunders in Blue Devils History
Duke basketball is one of the most successful programs in the history of college basketball.
The Blue Devils have celebrated many incredible moments, including winning four national championships.
Unfortunately, when a program has as much success as Duke has over the years, there will inevitably be moments of tremendous disappointment. Even though Mike Krzyzewski’s approach is to always look to the next play, these are moments that will always sting for former players, coaches and fans.
Here are the five biggest blunders in Duke history.
5. 2012 NCAA Tournament Loss to Lehigh
The 2011-12 season was one in which the Blue Devils never quite came together as a complete team. That was painfully obvious in the team’s opening NCAA tournament game against Lehigh.
No. 2 seeded Duke was heavily favored over the No. 15 seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks but that didn’t mean anything once the ball was tipped.
Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum had his way with Duke’s defense and finished the game with 30 points, helping lead his team to a 75-70 upset over the Blue Devils.
Duke clearly missed the services of Ryan Kelly in this game, who was out with a foot injury, but it was still a game in which the team was outworked and out-hustled. It was also the final game in the season for a team that was unable to ever reach its full potential.
4. 1974 at UNC
It was March 2, 1974, and Duke held an eight point lead with 17 seconds to play against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. It looked like the Blue Devils had completed another road win against their hated rivals.
Instead, North Carolina scored eight points in the final 17 seconds, including a 30-foot buzzer beater (no three-point shots at that time) to send the game to overtime. The Tar Heels finished the game with a 96-92 victory.
It’s still one of the most miraculous comebacks in the history of college basketball and one of the most inexplicable losses in Duke’s history.
3. 1999 National Championship Game vs. UConn
The 1999 National Championship Game was supposed to be the moment for the 1998-99 Blue Devils to cement their place as one of the most dominant teams in the history of college basketball.
Duke entered the game with a 31-game winning streak and a record of 37-1. It was a team loaded with NBA talent that had cruised through the regular season and NCAA tournament until the final game.
Duke and Connecticut played an outstanding championship game and the Huskies were a worthy champion, but Blue Devil fans will always remember the game’s final seconds.
Down one, Duke’s Trajan Langdon tried to make a move to get the go-ahead basket. Instead, he was called for traveling with 5.4 seconds remaining. After Connecticut made two free throws to take a three point lead, Duke got the ball with 5.2 seconds to play.
The ball went to Langdon again, who was unable to get a shot off before time expired.
It was a heartbreaking end to an incredible career for Langdon and a spectacular season for Duke.
2. 1998 NCAA Tournament vs. Kentucky
The 1998 NCAA Tournament selection committee brought back memories of 1992 when it put Duke and Kentucky as the top two seeds in a region again.
This time, the two teams squared off in the South Region final in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Duke had a 17-point lead with 9:38 remaining in the game and it looked like the Blue Devils were about to punch a ticket to another Final Four. Tubby Smith and the Wildcats had other ideas.
Kentucky stormed back from 17 points down and eventually took the lead for good with a three-pointer by Scott Padgett with 39.4 seconds to play.
The Wildcats won the game, 86-84, and went on to win the 1998 National Championship.
1. 2004 National Semifinal vs. UConn
Many believe the 2004 National Semifinal between Duke and Connecticut was the de-facto national championship game. Considering either team projected to be favored in the next round against Georgia Tech, it’s easy to see why.
Despite both teams being hindered by foul trouble as the result of some questionable officiating, Duke had a 75-67 lead with under three minutes remaining.
It looked like the Blue Devils would move on to the title game.
However, Emeka Okafor and the Huskies proved to be too much. Connecticut used a 12-0 run down the stretch to overtake Duke in a loss that left many of the players stunned.
As Duke guard Daniel Ewing said after the game, “It’s hard to explain this kind of loss.”