DALLAS, Texas – It was a barn burner and perhaps a final four preview as #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils suffers their first loss to #3 Gonzaga 89-87 in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational Championship game.
Not only did the Zags win in a convincing fashion, they gave the Blue Devils a lesson in ball movement and selfless basketball while doing so. The Zags wasted no time building a 14-point lead going into the half.
Five-time Maui champion Duke (5-1) made it look easy in their first five games; its fantastic freshmen soaring through opponents, living up to the hype while looking unbeatable. With the momentum the Blue Devils were riding on coming into that championship contest, it was nearly a foregone conclusion that no team, not even the Gonzaga Bulldogs (6-0) would be good enough to stop this phenomenal freshman show that’s being displayed before our very eyes. Turns out, we were wrong. Gonzaga set the tone from the opening tip where they only allowed Duke to lead for the entire game by two.
Duke trailed by 16 in the second half before mounting a massive charge with a series of dunks and lay-ups to the basket. After the Blue Devils tied it at 87-all, Rui Hachimura scored on a hard drive to put Gonzaga up. Duke had a chance to not only tie again, but take the lead for the first time since the opening tip-off. In their last four possessions, R.J. Barrett attempted all four shots and missed all four. Although Barrett finished with 23 points and was highly pivotal in their comeback journey, it’s interesting to wonder why none of those plays were drawn up for Zion Williamson, who finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks of his own. The Zags continued to lead for the remainder of the game. Hachimura led the way for the Bulldogs with 20 points on 50% shooting.
What Does This Lost Mean For Duke?
As crazy as it may sounds, this loss was actually great for the Duke Blue Devils. Let’s keep in mind that Duke’s season is riding on the coat tails of freshmen, with zero college basketball experience. Now, because they are highly skilled and will be drafted top five (Williamson, Barrett, Reddish) we ultimately forget that they are 18 to 19-years old, because they haven’t been playing like it – until tonight. In that championship game against Gonzaga, the entire world was quickly reminded that these guys are freshmen with a great deal of talent.
Another great conclusion that comes from this loss is the timing of it. If you’re a young team like Duke, it’s better to lose now versus losing when it’s close to march madness season – because once the tournament gets here it’s one and done and at that point, they can’t afford to lose the way they lost tonight. More importantly, we will have an opportunity to find out what this Blue Devil squad is truly made of moving forward. When you’re used to dominating and you get dominated for the first time, there’s only two possible outcomes that can occur – it can either make or break your team, and we’ll have to stay tuned to find out which one it will be.
Duke is scheduled to face Indiana in the ACC/Big 10 challenge on Nov. 27. Tip-off begins at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.