INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Krzyzewski already holds the NCAA record for most wins by a coach.
Thanks to Seth Curry’s big scoring night, Krzyzewski could finish the weekend by tying one of John Wooden’s records.
Curry scored 29 points, tied the school record for most three-pointers in an NCAA tournament game and led the Duke Blue Devils past Michigan State 71-61, putting Krzyzewski within one win of his 12th Final Four appearance. All Duke has to do is beat top-seeded Louisville in the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Regional final — something it already has done.
“We were fortunate to win that game. They’ve been playing the best basketball in the country,” Krzyzewski said, referring to Duke’s 76-71 victory Nov. 24. “I love their two guards. I think they’re great kids and they’re dynamic. But they’re deep. They’re a deep team. We can’t turn the ball over against them.”
Duke (30-5) can create its own set of problems as the Spartans found out Friday night.
Curry knocked down six of his first seven 3s before missing his final two to tie a school record that had been attained six other times, most recently by Jason Williams on March 22, 2001, against UCLA. He had plenty of help, too. Rasheed Sulaimon scored 16 points, making 12 of 14 from the free-throw line, also tying a school record for free throws made in a tourney game. Mason Plumlee added 14 points and seven rebounds in the return to his home state.
And if Krzyzewski earns career win No. 958 on Sunday against top-seeded Louisville, he will break a second-place tie with North Carolina’s Dean Smith and move into a tie with Wooden for most Final Four appearances by a head coach in NCAA history.
Krzyzewski isn’t the only one chasing a milestone.
A win would also move Louisville coach Rick Pitino into a tie for fourth all-time with Roy Williams and he is trying to get the Cardinals back to the Final Four for the second straight year.
Clearly, Louisville (32-5) has a few advantages. The game in Indianapolis will be played about 100 miles from campus and another heavily-partisan Cardinals crowd is expected at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But Louisville will face a team that was ranked No. 1 earlier this season and in the same venue it lost as the top seeded team in the Midwest Region just four years ago to Michigan State. Plus, they’ll be facing a Duke team that is clicking on all cylinders.
“If a team’s game plan is to just to be tough or physical with us, that’s not going to win,” Plumlee said.
The Spartans (27-9) learned that lesson the hard way.
They focused, as usual, on dominating the middle.
Instead, Curry’s 3-point barrage loosened things up, and forced Michigan State to play catch-up most of the second half.
His sixth three of the night broke a 38-38 tie early in the second half, sending Duke on a 9-0 run. The Blue Devils never trailed again.
“Honestly, I was just trying to help my shot. I got a few to go early,” Curry said. “I feel like every time I take a shot, it’s going to go down and nothing felt different tonight.”
The Spartans were led by Keith Appling, who scored 16 points despite playing with a brace over his injured right shoulder. Adreian Payne added 14 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn’t nearly enough against Curry & Co.
Coach Tom Izzo was hoping that his only son’s prediction, that Duke would beat Michigan State in the regional semis, would be wrong. Instead, the younger Izzo got it right.
“They’re a good team, they played well, Curry hurt us, no question about it,” Izzo said. “We didn’t quit, we hung in there. I thought we played poorly for us, but the better team won tonight.”
The game was billed as an entertaining contest between two of college basketball’s most successful coaches — and it lived up to the hype.
The first half was played to a near draw with four ties and eight lead changes.
Michigan State grabbed an 18-17 lead on Derrick Nix’s tip-in with 9:52 left in the first half, but Curry then scored nine points in an 11-2 run for the Blue Devils. He was fouled by Travis Trice while attempting a three-pointer and made all three free throws to make it 28-20 with 4:59 remaining.
Back came the Spartans, who clamped down on defense and closed to 32-31 at halftime.
But Curry’s early second-half scoring spree was all the Blue Devils needed. Michigan State pulled within seven with 1:32 to go, but couldn’t get any closer after trailing by as much as 13 in the second half.
“We knew we would have to play at that level. They’re a little more athletic than we are,” Krzyzewski said. “We had to try to match that and tonight we were able to do that. I’m glad it’s not a seven-game series because I’m not sure we’d be able to continue to do it. But tonight we were able to do it.”