KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- So much for the coronation.
On a night that felt custom-tailored to officially, and finally, announce Kansas State's presence among college basketball's elite programs, bonafide members of that elite group -- the Duke Blue Devils; maybe you've heard of them -- were too talented, too composed and too ... Duke to lose. It was a thoroughly impressive performance in difficult conditions, and before the postgame press conference fun begins, here's a few quick thoughts from Duke's 82-68 win.
Duke led throughout, but one key run -- an 18-6 stretch that put Duke up 64-49 at the 11:41 mark -- truly sealed the game. Before that run, Kansas State had closed the lead to five at 48-43, and it looked as though the game might tighten up in the second half. But a series of turnovers, including two by Curtis Kelly and two by freshman point guard Will Spradling, led to a handful of Duke transition buckets. By the time a timeout came and you took a deep breath long enough to look up at the score, Duke had blown the game wide open. Kansas State would never threaten again.
It's hard to overplay how impressive Kyrie Irving was. The stats -- 17 points, six assists, five rebounds, three steals -- tell some of the story, but the ease with which Irving commanded the game was the most superb part of his night. The highly touted freshman guard got to the rim against Jacob Pullen, Will Spradling, Martavious Irving, and the rest of K-State's guards with ease. He finished at the rim with strength and gusto. The moment he saw an opening on the break, Irving sprinted up the floor, frequently beating Kansas State -- a team rather fond of fast-break basketball itself -- to the rim. And when Duke got into secondary break opportunities, Irving was composed and intelligent, letting Duke's spacing work before finding open shooters in stride. It was as good as freshman point guard performances get.
As good as Irving was, Pullen was that bad. Every star is allowed off-games, and Pullen will no doubt rebound in the coming weeks. But against good teams -- not to mention great teams with great backcourts, which is exactly what Duke is -- Pullen can't disappear for as many long stretches of the game as he did Tuesday night. It wasn't just that Pullen was missing shots; it's that he wasn't finding them. In the second half, Pullen got a few more looks, but too many of them were inadvisable, flat-footed, challenged, and doomed to fail. For far too much of this game, Pullen just wasn't there.
Needless to say, when Kansas State shoots 3-for-17 from the 3-point line, it's not going to win too many games. Forget beating Duke. That sort of shooting performance won't beat Colorado. (And credit Duke for forcing so many bad shots, and closing out well on the ones that seemed, if only for a moment, to be open.)
Irving was the tournament's MVP. It's probably safe to bet that won't be the last hardware Mr. Irving takes home.
And, of course, Tuesday night was Coach K's 800th win. It was a classic performance from another of his seemingly inexhaustible supply of great teams. As Frank Martin said Monday night, it's hard enough to be good for one year. Duke has been good for two decades. An amazing run by one of the best coaches in any sport, anywhere. As if I needed to remind you.