This is the Duke team we've been waiting to see

Duke storms past UNC in ACC semis (1:57)

No. 14 Duke outscores No. 6 North Carolina by 17 in the second half en route to a 93-83 victory to advance to the title game. (1:57)

NEW YORK -- Standing deep in the baseline corner, just in front of his own bench, Luke Kennard caught the pass from Grayson Allen, rose up and took aim at the basket. The most reliable player on Duke's team all season had been more like the most invisible until that moment, taking just three shots, connecting on only one.

Undeterred by his own early irrelevance, Kennard swished the 3-pointer, drawing a foul from North Carolina's Nate Britt to boot.

Before the tweet of the whistle subsided, Allen spun around at midcourt and, offering a perfect Incredible Hulk pose, flexed his muscles.

And in that moment, Duke finally flexed its muscles, too.

This is the team we have been waiting for, the one that looked so good on paper in October. In back-to-back games, the Blue Devils have come back from the dead, rallying to beat Louisville in the ACC tournament quarterfinals and, even more improbably, storming back against North Carolina in the semis. In the span of 12 minutes, 59 seconds, Duke went from down 11 to winning by 10, 93-83 over a Tar Heels team many think could win the national championship.

The two wins were eerily similar, each sparked by a version of a corner 3, each with similar deficits and time stamps. Except this one was bigger.

Not because it put the Blue Devils in the finals, but because of how it happened.

Unlike the win against Louisville, in which Allen's rebirth from a slump fueled the charge, this game was not won by a single player. It was won because Allen hit four 3s in the first half and Kennard scored 10 in the second. It was won because Jayson Tatum finished with 24 points but also seven rebounds. It was won because Frank Jackson nailed a 3 to give the Blue Devils the lead. It was won because Amile Jefferson endured the thankless task of dealing with Carolina's bigs all night and emerged the victor. And it was won because, in one frantic span of 83 seconds, Harry Giles scored on an alley-oop, dove for a loose ball and forced a turnover and pulled down a defensive rebound.

"That was all heart," Tatum said. "All heart. It was whatever's left in the tank, you give it. There were some tactics, sure, but that was mostly heart and energy."

This is what Duke was supposed to be -- so good, so versatile it would never be reliant on one player. It could beat opponents in a variety of ways, a pick-your-poison collection of weapons that would simply overrun everyone.

This is not, of course, who Duke has been. The Blue Devils' season has been a series of starts and sputters, slowed by injuries, suspension and even the absence of its head coach. They have relied on one player, turning Kennard from another guy on the roster to the Blue Devils' savior.

And they haven't, frankly, been very good.

The players knew what they could be. They saw it in the locker room, all that talent spread around the room. It just didn't work.

"We needed a reality check," Tatum said. "We thought we were going to be the best team in the country because that's what we'd seen and read. But we weren't."

The eye-opener came not in the much-reported meeting at Mike Krzyzewski's house, after which he booted the Devils from the locker room and took their gear. It came in a simpler meeting, with a bunch of players sitting around, looking one another in the eye and finally telling one another some hard truths. They thought they were working hard in practice. They weren't. They thought they had good chemistry. They didn't.

They thought this was going to be easy.

It wasn't.

And it still isn't. The glass-half-empty version of these 22 minutes of fury is the other 58 minutes in which the Blue Devils looked as if they were going to get run out of the gym. Krzyzewski admitted as much after the glow wore off, reminding everyone that, were it not for Allen's four 3-pointers in succession in the first half, everyone might be telling a completely different story today.

"They were playing a lot better than us, and his four 3s made it look like we were OK, but we were not close," he said. "It was almost a third-round knockout, without him playing the way he did."

But Allen did do what he did, as did Kennard, Jackson, Tatum, Giles and Jefferson.

And now they can sense it, the energy and air that can only come to a team on a hot run in March. It felt the same in 2011, when Kemba Walker fueled UConn, and all the way back in 2006, when Gerry McNamara carried Syracuse. Four games in four nights is supposed to be a punishment for a regular-season not as well played as expected, but sometimes it's a reward for a team that is still searching to find itself.

Just two days ago, Krzyzewski said he was still trying to figure out his team's identity, an exceptionally late arrival for a rather critical intangible.


"We're becoming. We're becoming," Jefferson said.

Exactly what will Duke be?

Perhaps the team we always thought it would be.