The man known simply as “Coach K” became Division I’s winningest coach when No. 6 Duke beat Michigan State 74-69 on Tuesday night in the State Farm Champions Classic.
The Blue Devils (3-0) gave Krzyzewski his 903rd win, breaking the tie with Knight, Krzyzewski’s college coach at Army and his mentor throughout his professional career.
Junior guard Andre Dawkins had 26 points for Duke, which took control with a 20-1 run that gave the Blue Devils a 61-41 lead with 9:17 to play. Then it was just a matter of counting down the minutes until the celebration could get under way.
With Knight sitting across the court at the ESPN broadcast table, and with several former players in the stands – many able to attend because of the ongoing NBA lockout – Krzyzewski moved to the top of the list in front of a sellout crowd of 19,979 fans at Madison Square Garden.
Krzyzewski went right across the court to Knight when the game ended. They were cheek to cheek in a hug. Krzyzewski, tears in his eyes, broke away and Knight pulled him back, hands on his shoulders, then one final slap of the shoulder.
“I just told coach I love him,” Krzyzewski said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without him. It’s a moment shared. I know he’s very proud and I’m very proud to have been somebody who’s worked under him and studied him and tried to be like him.
“It’s a special moment,” Krzyzewski said of his family and former players, including Grant Hill, being there.
It wasn’t the Cameron Crazies cheering their coach on after a few nights waiting and sleeping in Krzyzewskiville. But a pro-Duke crowd started to get loud as the Blue Devils took control in the second half, as well as the fans from Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas and a bunch of regular old New Yorkers including flimmaker and New York Knicks fan Spike Lee.
“The basketball gods are good … they put two guys who’ve done a lot in the game together, special moments, and tonight is another one of those special moments,” Krzyzewski said of Knight’s presence at the historic game.
Dawkins, who had six 3-pointers, and Ryan Kelly hits 3s to start Duke’s big run. As Michigan State (0-2) kept missing shots down low, Seth Curry hit another 3 for Duke and then the Blue Devils closed the run by making 6 of 6 attempts at the free throw line.
The Spartans kept Krzyzewski coaching to the final minute. They finally started hitting shots and forcing turnovers to close to 74-69 with 12.9 seconds left.
Curry had 20 points while Kelly added 14 for the Blue Devils, who were 10 of 21 from 3-point range.
“It’s a special moment,” Krzyzewski said of his family and former players being there. “At halftime I wasn’t sure we were going to have this moment. We beat a really good team and I’m glad now we can just move on and just develop our team.”
Keith Appling had 22 points for Michigan State and Brandon Wood added 15. The Spartans finished with 21 turnovers.
Krzyzewski’s latest win had a very similar plot to the previous 902 as the Blue Devils were patient in a spread offense that got them open 3s and they moved the ball around against a tired bunch of Spartans and finally found a way to the free throw line.
The Blue Devils finished 30 of 41 from the line.
Krzyzewski moved to the top of the list in his 37th season, all but five at Duke. He also coached at West Point, his alma mater where Knight molded a point guard into a coach for the ages.
Knight won his 902 games in 42 seasons, six at Army, 29 at Indiana and seven at Texas Tech.
Krzyzewski and Knight both led the United States to an Olympic gold medal, Knight in 1984 and Krzyzewski in 2008. Coach K will have a chance at a second gold when he leads the team of NBA players again in London next summer.
Another number they both had in common was high graduation rates throughout their careers.
Duke led 34-33 at the end of a sloppy first half. The Blue Devils were 6 of 11 from 3-point range while the Spartans were just 2 of 6. Michigan State was able to offset 11 turnovers by dominating inside, outscoring the Blue Devils 16-4 in the paint, including a 6-1 advantage in second-chance points.
Duke is 26-15 all-time, including a 21-7 mark under Krzyzewski, at Madison Square Garden and the Blue Devils have won 12 of their last 14 there. Under Krzyzewski, Duke is 453-71 in non-conference games.
Michigan State opened the season against No. 1 North Carolina last Friday in the inaugural Carrier Classic on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson.