The Duke Blue Devils are national champions for the fifth time, winning 68-63 in an instant-classic thriller over fellow top seed Wisconsin Monday night in Indianapolis.
The lead changed 13 times in the first half alone before the Badgers blew open a nine-point lead in the final frame, but the Blue Devils mounted a surprise 10-0 run to put themselves in position late. Wisconsin's offense sputtered down the stretch, and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski spectacularly managed foul trouble from his stars.
Freshman point guard Tyus Jones made the difference with a dominant second half en route to Most Outstanding Player honors:
Often overlooked alongside fellow stud freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, Jones shined bright on his own with more than half of Duke's second-half points. One of his two late three-pointers gave Duke the lead for the final time, and the second one was the proverbial dagger with one minute and 24 seconds remaining. He then hit two free throws to secure the victory.
The Blue Devils needed every bit of Jones' leadership with Okafor and Winslow mired in foul trouble. He simply put his team on his back, as CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein noted:
He truly took over the game, which makes ESPN's Chad Ford wonder if it will indeed be his last collegiate game:
Aforementioned foul trouble limited Okafor to just 22 minutes and 10 points, but the Blue Devils were able to claw back into the game without their star center thanks to an out-of-nowhere explosion from Grayson Allen. Duke's freshman had just 18 points through the tournament's first five games but put up 16 points in Monday's win.
Here's a look at the statistical leaders for both teams below:
|2015 NCAA Championship Stats|
|Tyus Jones, G (MOP)||23 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist|
|Grayson Allen, G||16 points, 2 rebounds|
|Justise Winslow, F||11 points, 9 rebounds|
|Jahlil Okafor, C||10 points, 3 rebounds|
|Frank Kaminsky, F||21 points, 12 rebounds|
|Nigel Hayes, F||13 points, 1 rebound|
|Sam Dekker||12 points, 8 rebounds|
|Bronson Koenig||10 points, 4 assists|
The 21 points and 12 rebounds from Frank Kaminsky were nearly enough. The Wisconsin center exposed his counterpart Okafor for most of the contest in a battle of bigs and took advantage when Okafor missed time due to foul trouble.
As ESPN Stats & Info noted, his Final Four performance ranked among the greatest:
Kaminsky dominated much of the second half and got Okafor to ride the pine with four fouls, but the Badgers were unable to capitalize when up nine points in the second half. Sam Dekker finished with just 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting, missing all of his six three-point attempts.
The calls were questionable both ways, but Duke undeniably benefited from a number of fouls called late in the game—uncharacteristic for Bo Ryan's Wisconsin teams. As you'd expect, the Badgers weren't happy with that.
Point guard Bronson Koenig and Ryan himself made that clear after the game, per Dan Wolken of USA Today and Jon Soloman of CBS Sports:
Save for a few iffy calls and a review that the officials would like to have back, Wisconsin had its chances to put Duke away and simply couldn't. The Badgers stalled in unbelievable fashion, missing 11 of 14 shots after taking a 51-45 lead into the 12-minute media timeout.
From that point on, Duke outscored Wisconsin 23-12. Allen and Jones did most of the damage while Okafor and Winslow—the leaders for the tourney's first five games—either watched from the bench or the perimeter.
The fact that Duke did it without its biggest stars made the coaching job all the more spectacular, as ESPN's Skip Bayless observed:
It was never possible to deny Coach K's career success, but it's getting even harder to deny that he may be inching nearer and nearer to UCLA coaching great John Wooden. His fifth championship puts him alone in second place behind Wooden's 10. If there is a Wooden of today's game, it's undoubtedly him.
He may be fielding a very different roster in 2015-16. Okafor, Winslow and Jones could all depart for the NBA after one season, while senior leader Quinn Cook will also hit the trail.
Of course, the same can be said of Wisconsin. The Badgers lose Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson, and Dekker's incredible season could send him to the NBA as well.
If anything, that makes a game like Monday night's all the more special and adds to the immensely high stakes. That much was on display in a 40-minute thriller that marked a fitting ending to a spectacular tournament.
It also makes Duke's celebration all the more gratifying.