Duke escapes with win after Coach K leaves with illness

Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer (second from left) took over after Coach K left at halftime due to illness. (Photo by Shawn Krest)

DURHAM — On a night when they lost their head coach at halftime, the Duke Blue Devils needed a last-second shot to avoid losing the game as well.

With coach Mike Krzyzewski absent due to an undisclosed illness, Duke saw a 19-point lead disappear before Mark Williams tipped in a missed shot with 0.4 seconds left to beat Wake Forest 76-74 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday.

Krzyzewski did not appear to be feeling well in the first half as Duke built a nine-point lead. Associate head coach Jon Scheyer and other Duke assistants checked on him multiple times and called for team managers to bring him something to drink.

During the last few media timeouts of the half, Duke’s training staff and medical personnel checked in with Coach K.

Krzyzewski did not return from the locker room to start the second half, and four minutes into the half, the team’s official Twitter account posted a statement: “Update: Coach K is not feeling well. Will not return to bench tonight.”

At the time, Scheyer, who will take over for Krzyzewski following his retirement at the end of the season, appeared to have things well in hand. The Blue Devils expanded their lead to 57-38 with just under 15 minutes to play.

Wake 7-footer Dallas Walton hit back-to-back 3-pointers to help cut Duke’s lead to single digits, and the Demon Deacons, who shot just .375 in the first half, began their comeback.

Wake Forest used an 18-3 run to cut the lead to two points with 7:40 remaining. Duke rallied, however, building the lead back to nine and leading by seven with 1:40 to play.

The Blue Devils have struggled to close out games this year, however, leading with under two minutes to play in all three ACC losses.

Duke had turnovers on four straight possessions and did not attempt a 2-point shot in 5:57, until the final second of the game. The Blue Devils missed four 3-pointers over that span.

Mark Williams was called for a foul on a blocked shot attempt with 20 seconds left, allowing Alondes Williams to tie the game at the free-throw line. Williams, who picked up two early fouls, was saddled with foul trouble throughout but finished with 18 points and four assists.

Paolo Banchero missed a layup just before the buzzer, and Williams tipped the ball back through. Referees went to the video monitor to determine if the shot was still in the cylinder above the basket, which would have wiped out Williams’ shot due to goaltending.

The shot was clean, however, and Damari Monsanto’s three-quarter court shot at the buzzer bounced off the backboard and rim, evoking memories of Duke’s win over Butler in the 2010 national championship game.

“I thought he made it,” said Wake coach Steve Forbes. “Would it have counted? Probably not here.”

Forbes was encouraged by his team’s gritty comeback, however.

“We’ve been a tough team all year long,” he said, “a team that perseveres, a team that finds a way to win.”

While specific details about Krzyzewski’s condition weren’t released immediately after the game, Scheyer said, “Coach is feeling better. He got some rest. He needs some rest. … He spoke to our team after the game. He was still in the building.”

Forbes pointed out that Krzyzewski also missed Duke’s game in Winston-Salem due to illness last month.

“I guess he doesn’t want to take any pictures with me,” he joked. “I wanted to take a picture with him after the game.”