Down Goes Duke

"If you're not crying, it means it was never really that important" -- Coach K


GREENVILLE, S.C. — Duke players sat silently in the locker room after the team was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, 88-81 by South Carolina.

Facing the end of their season and, for much of the roster, the potential end of their college career, the players fought tears as they answered questions from the media.

The scene was exactly the way it should have been, according to coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t win tonight,” he said, “But at the end of the season, I want my guys to either be crying because we’ve lost or crying because we’ve just won. And it shows that if you’re not doing one of those, that means you never really became a team. It was never really that important.”

Duke lost a 10-point lead in the second half, as South Carolina hit an incredible 20 of 28 shots — a 71.4 percent accuracy — and four of five three-pointers to overwhelm the Blue Devils.

“I thought we were playing our butts off,” Krzyzewski said. “We got worn down. It’s the most physical game we’ve been in all year. And then we were in a lot of foul trouble. So you just try and patch up. I wish we had some of that tape that doesn’t let water into the boat.”

And so, the Blue Devil players and managers sat in the locker room and cried.

“These guys, they were a really good team,” Krzyzewski said. “This is one of the most proud teams for me because all the stuff. You all keep talking about expectations. I mean, look, a lot of these kids were just hurt at the start of the year and whatever. And they never used it as an excuse. And they became close. And so I just told them — I told them I love them and I’m proud of them. I wish I could keep coaching them this year. But that’s not going to happen.”

And the tears flowed. Except for one Duke player.

With 2:58 remaining in the game, senior Matt Jones saw his Duke career come to an end after picking up his fifth foul.

Coach Krzyzewski was discussing the call with the official as Jones walked past him toward the Duke bench. Realizing the significance of the moment, he ended his conversation with the referee to slap Jones on the behind as he walked by.

Duke assistant coaches and Jones’ teammates each hugged him and slapped him as he took his seat, but he didn’t cry.

“Yeah, I thought about that, that it could be the end,” Jones said of the moment. “Obviously, just the way (the Gamecocks) were gelling on offense. It went through my mind, but you try not to let it affect you cheering on your teammates. Plus, we’ve done it before — we’ve come back. We thought we could. Shots just didn’t fall. We couldn’t find enough energy to muster up.”

In the locker room, Jones sat dry-eyed, the lone Blue Devil not giving in to emotion.

“I don’t know,” he said, when asked why. “I’m kind of numb. I gave everything I had the last four years. Some was a success. Some I took lumps, but other than that, I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

Across the locker room, a red-eyed freshman knew the reason.

In a voice choked with sobs, Harry Giles said he wasn’t surprised at Jones’ calm in the emotional storm. “Definitely,” he said. “He’s the leader. It’s what you expect for Matt. He’s going be tough for us, stay strong for us. He and Amile (Jefferson, fellow senior) don’t want to make it harder for us seeing them. He was being strong. I was trying to do the same thing.”

One last time, in the moments immediately after his Duke career ended, Matt Jones made one final sacrifice for his teammates, and fought back the tears.

“You know how bad they love this team,” Giles said. “They showed it every day. The fact that this is their last time leaving us tonight . I wanted it for them more than anything.”


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