INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe, the K in Coach K should stand for kids.
Duke proved that college basketball has indeed become a young man’s game.
The talk all season was about another group of freshman in blue that were putting their stamp on the season, the wunderkinds of Kentucky. But when the curtain closed and the confetti fell on the floor at the Final Four it was Duke’s fabulous freshmen — Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen — who were holding court and the national championship trophy.
Durham’s Fab Four gave legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski his fifth national title by scoring all 37 of the Blue Devils’ points in the second half, as Duke rallied from 9 points down to defeat Wisconsin, 68-63, Monday night in the national title game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
A group of kids who weren’t even alive when Christian Laettner was making Duke a hated household name, they played with resiliency, maturity and a steely determination beyond their years. They showed Wisconsin that age is just a number and that college basketball doesn’t check IDs for championships.
“They’re amazing. They’re amazing,” said Duke senior Quinn Cook. “The number one class, they came in so humble. It was all about the team. They worked hard. It paid off tonight. They’ve been making plays for us all year. It’s great that it paid off in the biggest game of everybody’s lives. I’m grateful for those young guys . . . I’m just thankful that they came to Duke.”
It was a remarkable dichotomy down the stretch of a tight and taut title game. Duke’s irrepressible freshmen against Wisconsin’s tough, talented and experienced upperclassmen, who had cut down 38-0 Kentucky on Saturday night behind senior Frank Kaminsky and junior Sam Dekker.
Understand that in today’s college basketball, anyone who is not a freshman qualifies as an upperclassmen. That’s just the current reality of the sport. Wisconsin (36-4) didn’t have a freshman in its nine-man rotation, and coming into the Final Four had gotten 17 points all season from freshmen.
The biggest shot-maker of this game was Jones, who scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half for Duke (35-4). The crafty point guard tied the game at 54 on a pull-up jumper with 7:04 left. He drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 4:08 left that put Duke up for good (59-58). He buried another three with 1:24 to go that gave Duke an 8-point lead and was the stake in the heart of the cheeseheads.
But Jones’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible without Allen. Allen, who only was averaging 4 points per game, was a leading man when Duke needed him most. He had 10 of his 16 points in the second half.
Wisconsin was up, 48-39, after a Kaminsky layup forced Coach K to call a timeout with 13:17 to go.
Out of the timeout, Allen hit a corner three. It was the start of eight straight Duke points he scored — after the Blue Devils had started the half 2-of-8 shooting to bring Duke within 51-47.
“We were in foul trouble and a little bit disjointed. Grayson put us on his back,” said Coach K.
Jones hit a hanging jumper while being fouled to bring Duke within a point. But Kaminsky responded with a beautiful spin move that drew Okafor’s fourth personal foul and restored Wisconsin’s 4-point lead (54-50) with 9:18 to go.
The matchup between Okafor, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, and Kaminsky, the 2015 national player of the year, was decidedly in Kaminsky’s favor. He toyed with the youngster on his way to 21 points and 12 rebounds.
But Kaminsky’s partner in crime, Dekker, had an off-shooting night, limited to 12 points on 6-of-15 shooting and 0 for 6 from 3-point range.
Okafor (10 points and 3 rebounds in 22 minutes) essentially jumped on the championship pile. He came back in with 3:22 to go and powered through a bear hug from Kaminsky to put Duke up 61-58 with 3:14 to play. He then grabbed a loose ball and scored to put the Dukies up 5. They were his only points of the half.
Jones drilled his dagger three and gestured to the crowd. Wisconsin had one last gasp to cut the lead to 3.
But Jones hit two free throws to put Duke back up by 5 with 34.9 seconds.
Bronson Koenig’s jumper fell short with 16 seconds left and landed in the arms of Winslow (11 points, nine rebounds).
Duke won its last national title here in 2010, defeating Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his Butler Bulldogs. Coach K, who was coaching his ninth title game, second only to John Wooden, won his first national title in Indy in 1991.
Wisconsin was in the title game for the first time since 1941, when the Badgers won their only national title with a 39-34 (not a misprint) victory over Washington State.
It was a difficult ending for the venerable and likeable Wisconsin team to stomach, especially because of the reverence the officials seemed to show for Duke in the second half, after the teams were tied at 31 at halftime.
Wisconsin did not shoot a single free throw over the final 9 minutes and 17 seconds. The Badgers were called for 13 fouls in the second half to Duke’s six. The Blue Devils were 12 of 16 on free throws in the second half. Wisconsin was 3 for 3.
“What a fantastic job these guys did all year,” said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. “Highest offensive efficiency, a team that committed the least number of fouls during the year, a team that got to the free throw line. These guys played 30-some games that way. It’s just unfortunate that this one had to be played out that way.”
It was, but this night belonged to the young and to Duke.