Tales From The Tent: Day 26- When One Comeback Isn't Enough

My fellow Crazies, after a long wait it is finally that time of year- it’s tenting season. I will be bringing you a step by step account of my tenting experience for the next six weeks to give you an inside look at the most sacred tradition at Duke University- tenting.

26 days down
16 to go
12 first year students
1 dream

Fresh off of Duke’s thrilling win over North Carolina and a convincing home victory over Maryland, it was time for our final tenting game of the season. The final weekend of blue tenting kicked off as Duke matched up with NC State. Shortly after this game, our tent number would be decided and we would have a spot in line for the Carolina game.

You mad, State? (Photo courtesy DukeBluePlanet.com)

If you’ve never been to a Duke-NC State game at Cameron, it’s quite a spectacle. As a student who has never been to a Duke-State game before and did not grow up in the state of North Carolina, I quickly found out I had a lot to learn. Students do not come to the State game to take in superior basketball, they mostly do so to watch Duke beat up on NC State and taunt NC State’s fans for going to NC State.  We like to make our neighbors from Raleigh feel at home when they come to Cameron. Farm gear was in abundance as overalls and straw hats were abundant while the Crazies broke out into random choruses of “Old McDonald”.

E I E I O. (Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

The game, however, did not follow the usual trend of Duke-State blowouts. The Blue Devils came out of the gate and played arguably the worst half of basketball it had all year. It seemed as though they could not buy a shot. Meanwhile, their interior defense was once again proving fallible as Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie knifed inside for easy buckets. When Duke went down 8-2 before the fist media timeout we thought it was one of our usual start slow end fast games, but clearly we did not know what was in store for us on this night. The Wolfpack started the game on a 16-4 run, leaving the entire stadium dumbfounded. The Blue Devils also suffered an early blow when Seth Curry went down in the game’s opening minutes. The Crazies held their collective breath as he sat on the court and was eventually taken to the locker room. Knocking one of our players out of the game was a huge blow to the Blue Devils’ psyche. Duke simply could not rally back as NC State held onto a double-digit advantage for the remainder of the first half. In fact the lead continued to grow to 15 points, 17 points, and eventually a whopping 19-point advantage when State took a 44-25 lead with 1:53 remaining in the first half. There wasn’t much of anything going right for Duke at this point. They were being embarrassed on the glass by a smaller NC State team and they were taking advantage of an abundance of second and third chance opportunities. Mediocre shooting was not helping Duke’s case, as they could barely buy a bucket on the offensive end.

Going into halftime down 46-30, the student section felt like we were all sitting at a funeral. As I sat in the stands during halftime, I flashed back to just two weeks earlier against Miami, when we went into the half down double digits only to make a storming comeback. We would have won that game if not for poor execution and free throw shooting down the stretch, but it was hard to believe that after watching a half of basketball that poor that Duke had any business coming back in this game. They were simply not playing anything resembling winning basketball.

For a moment at the beginning of the second half, this game looked eerily similar to Miami. Duke came out with renewed energy, opening the half on a 7-2 run and cutting the deficit to 11. The crowd began to respond, hopeful that this would be a sign of things to come, but what they were not expecting was an NC State response. The Wolfpack went on a 13-4 run of their own to extend their lead to 20 with 11:33 remaining. The action broke for a media timeout, and we believed Duke’s spirits had been broken as well. But this would not be the day for Duke to be blown out at home. When the action resumed, Duke began to claws its way back into the game with defensive pressure. The run began from the free throw line when Seth Curry knocked down three free throws and Mason Plumlee went 3-for-4 in a two-minute stretch. While Duke’s comebacks against Miami and North Carolina began to flash through my mind, this game bore the strongest resemblance to last year’s contest against Carolina where Duke came down from 14-points down at the half. Seth Curry took over that game, and he did the same against NC State. After being knocked out early in the game, Curry scored 21 points in the second half on his way to a game-high 26. At one point Curry scored six straight points for Duke as it clawed back in to within nine points. With each of Curry’s jumpers, the Crazies came more and more alive while the score seemed more and more in reach. Austin Rivers added five points within a 30-second stretch as Duke had fought back to 69-62 with 5:29 left.

Floor slap. Legend. (Photo courtesy DukeBluePlanet.com)

We were in disbelief. How could a team that was playing this poorly in the first half be playing this well in the second? Everything was clicking on both ends of the floor for us, and it seemed to be a race against the clock for whether or not this game would be winnable for Duke. Seth Curry resumed his role of basketball deity after Duke called timeout, knocking down yet another jumper and dishing to Mason Plumlee for an easy layup to pull the Blue Devils within three. At this point there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to come away with this game. But NC State wouldn’t go down without a fight, padding their lead back to five with a tip-in from C.J. Leslie. As he had for the entirety of the run, Seth Curry responded by drilling a 3-pointer, and with three minutes to play this was going to be a sprint to the finish. At this point I was going absolutely insane, the building was shaking and the roar was deafening. On the next possession Miles Plumlee pulled down a defensive rebound and Duke had a chance to tie the game. Seconds ticked on for hours as Duke brought up the ball. We only wanted the ball in one person’s hands- Seth Curry. But Austin Rivers had other ideas. About 24 feet from the basket at the top of the key, Rivers pulled up for three fairly early in the shot clock. We were bewildered why he would take such a shot- until it went in. Then we went crazy. After being 20 points down just 10 minutes before, Duke had taken the lead with 2:29 to go. The Blue Devils would never look back, and unlike their failed comeback against Miami there would be no free throw shooting woes down the stretch. Duke missed its last six free throws when they fell to Miami, but made its last six free throws to beat NC State. After being able to wish a special Duke goodbye to three of the Wolfpack’s best players after they fouled out in the last two minutes, the clock struck zero as the Blue Devils escaped with another incredible comeback victory. They had just completed the largest comeback victory in the Coach K era.

As we made our way out of Cameron, only one word could come to mind – surreal. It was perhaps the most erratic game of basketball I had ever seen. Duke had played arguably its best and its worst half of basketball in the same game. Say what you want about this year’s Duke team. Call them overrated, say they don’t have the talent experience, but don’t for a second tell me they don’t have heart. Regardless of your opinion, this team finds a way to win games. Good teams win games they are supposed to win, and great teams find ways to win games they aren’t supposed to win.

On to the next one.

Be sure to check out the rest of Dan’s tenting diary! Links galore below:

Pre-tenting: It Begins
Day 1: Welcome to K-Ville
Day 2: From Dusk ‘Til Dawn
Day 4/5: Into The Storm
Day 7: Losing Momentum
Day 9: The Other Side of Duke Basketball
Day 12/13/14: You Win Some, You Lose Some
Day 15: The First Taste
Day 18: Insanity
Day 26: When One Comeback Isn’t Enough
Day 29/30: I’ve Been Dreaming Of A White Tenting
Day 35/36: Taking Out The Trash
Day 40: It Gets Personal
Day 41: One Force, One Fight
Day 42: Go To Hell Carolina