After the final buzzer sounded at Madison Square Garden, the Blue Devils had won a hard-fought 68-59 game against the UConn Huskies and had reclaimed the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship.
Duke was back on top.
Back on top of another preseason tournament, back on top at Madison Square Garden where the Devils have been so tough to defeat, and back on top of the college basketball landscape.
The Blue Devils, who improved to 6-0 after their win over the Huskies, started the season off with four straight blowout wins. UNC-Greensboro, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, and Radford had all fallen to the high-flying Devils at the start of the season.
On their arrival to MSG in New York City, Duke was heavily favored in their semifinal game versus Arizona State. Struggling throughout the first half and to close out the match, Duke was greatly tested by the Sun Devils who were led by former NC State coach Herb Sendek.
Duke won that game by 11 points, although the Sun Devils played efficient against a much larger and more talented Blue Devils team.
The UConn Huskies, on the other hand, could not have had a more different start to the season.
The 13th-ranked Huskies opened the season with tight contests against Williams & Mary, Colgate, and Hofstra, winning the three games against much lesser competition by an average of 10.7 points.
Their semifinal of the NIT Season Tip-off could also not have been any more opposite of Duke either, as UConn destroyed an undersized and out-manned LSU squad, 81-55. Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson each played at a high intensity for coach Jim Calhoun.
Going into their Championship matchup, UConn was the favorite amongst most of the sportswriters and fans in the country. UConn would be too athletic for Duke to handle, too physical down low, and would outwork the Blue Devils on the boards.
Well, the Duke Blue Devils proved everyone wrong.
Duke out-hustled, out-rebounded, and out-shot a UConn team that was supposed to give the Blue Devils fits. UConn would alter too many interior shots for Duke to have any chance of winning the game, many said.
Led by senior point guard Jon Scheyer and junior shooting guard Nolan Smith, Duke consistently outworked UConn, collecting more rebounds and possessing more energy than the Huskies.
On more than one occasion, a Duke player willingly gave up his body in order to jump into the crowd and save the possession on offense or defense. On more than one occasion, a UConn player was left standing, not supplying his team with that same kind of energy.
Another key stat that was eye-popping was the fact that UConn didn’t make one three-pointer the entire game.
Was it the fact that Duke played great perimeter defense, or did UConn just have a horrible night at shooting from behind the arc? That answer is yet to be seen, although the Huskies entered the game shooting 38% from three-point territory on the season.
Duke is now back on top in terms of success. Not only was the win against UConn their 22nd consecutive win in November, but it also marks one of the few times in the past few seasons at Duke that the Blue Devils have defeated a quality opponent in an NCAA-type atmosphere.
This win should propel Duke into greater expectations for the season. The Devils will now be looked upon as a very dangerous team in the country and will be overlooked by few.
This win should prove to the rest of the country that Duke can beat anyone, whether that be a physical team like the Huskies or a team that throws out a different type of offense like that of the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The win against UConn on one of the grandest stages in the world, Madison Square Garden, means that Duke is back on top.