In Duke’s first game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils were stunned by little-known Mercer. The loss prompted incoming freshman point guard Tyus Jones to send his future head coach Mike Krzyzewski a text message after the shocking upset.
“I just told him that this won’t happen again next year,” Jones said.
One year later, not only did Jones fulfill his promise of avoiding an early round exit, but it was he who would play a crucial role in the national championship, scoring 13 points in the final 11 minutes to earn most outstanding player honors in Duke's 68-63 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“My teammates and the coaching staff gave me confidence,” said Jones, who finished with 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting. “They believed in me and trusted me all year. There had never been a moment where they’d doubted me. They trusted me to make a play and that’s the biggest thing about this team, we never want to let one another down.”
Duke delivered for Krzyzewski in Indianapolis, the city where the coach won the first of his five championships in 1991. It is the school's first title since defeating Butler in 2010, which Duke also won in Indianapolis.
Monday's showdown was a tale of two halves. The first half was a seesaw battle that consisted of 13 lead changes. Wisconsin shot just 38.7 percent but eight offensive rebounds kept the score close with the Badgers earning second-chance points.
But in the second half, Wisconsin would jump out ahead and maintain their lead for roughly 13 minutes. Bronson Koenig knocked down all four of his shot attempts in the first six minutes of the second half for nine points, as the Badgers owned a nine-point lead with 13:23 remaining.
With star center Jahlil Okafor benched with foul trouble, Duke received a welcomed boost from an unlikely source: reserve guard Grayson Allen. The freshman scored eight points on four Duke possessions, as the Blue Devils would trim the deficit to one.
“We were kind of dead in the water. We were nine points down, and Grayson kind of put us on his back," said Krzyzewski.
At the seven-minute mark, it was Jones’ turn to shine. He would knock down a long jump shot to tie the score, 54-54. Duke would then get their first lead of the second half when Allen converted a driving layup.
But the Badgers would not go quietly. Wisconsin scored on consecutive layups from Frank Kaminsky, the national player of the year, and Sam Dekker, to regain the lead, 58-56. Kaminsky would finish with 21 points, while Dekker added 12. The star frontcourt players would also combine for 20 rebounds.
While Wisconsin was keeping it close, Jones answered back by draining a three-pointer as Duke regained the lead, 59-58.
The Blue Devils would extend their lead, as Okafor returned to the game and made an immediate impact. The big man scored on consecutive possessions to extend Duke’s lead to 63-58. Jones’ three-pointer with 1:24 remaining and his two free throws with 35 seconds left were enough to seal the victory.
Duke, playing with just eight scholarship players, received 18 points from the bench with 16 coming from Allen.
“They showed such grit tonight,” said Krzyzewski. “Our bench was spectacular. Like we said about two months ago, eight is enough. Eight is enough."
It was a disappointing finish after a spectacular run by the Badgers. Wisconsin was able to defeat seventh-ranked Arizona in the Elite Eight, and then ended Kentucky’s dream season with an impressive win in the Final Four. Bo Ryan’s squad was looking to earn the school's first men's basketball title since 1941.
Ryan described the game as one of the most physical Wisconsin had played all season, and called it "a shame" that the game had so much body contact.
"I told these guys how proud I was of them," Ryan said. "It was just a situation where you just have to be able to handle all the hands and the checking, I mean there was more body contact in this game than any game we played all year."
There were 28 total fouls in the game, with the Badgers whistled for 15. Wisconsin shot 41 percent from the field, while Duke shot 47.1 percent.
"I just feel sorry for my guys that all of the sudden the game was like that," Ryan said.
"I think they're struggling with that a little bit. We missed some opportunities, they hit some tough shots. It's just a shame that it had to be played that way."