It’s not a bad gig, covering Yale and getting to see the Elis play twice at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 2015, not to mention an inspirational NCAA game in Providence in 2016.
But let’s start from the beginning. The flight to Raleigh on Friday was simple and a tour of the Duke Basketball Museum & Sports Hall of Fame and Krzyzewskiville, where Duke students have camped out for tickets since about 1986, was a blast.
The privilege to attend the Yale shootaround on Saturday at 11:30 a.m., was even better thanks to coach James Jones, who was methodical in his preparation but sure to give ample time to some of his own family, including his peripatetic son Quincy, a great athlete in his own right. As always, he preached toughness and crafted a sound game plan against one of the top two teams in the country.
With an impending storm about to hit the Raleigh-Durham area, there were some extra tickets available outside of Cameron, but very, very few.
Once inside, there were many familiar Yale faces, including all-time scoring leader Butch Graves. But don’t confuse that for a highly partisan and loud Duke crowd of 9,314.
The pregame chat between the two coaches was longer than normal, as they have now gotten to know each other from their recent battles. There was clearly mutual respect exchanged in front of the Yale bench.
The Elis started strong, even though star swingman Miye Oni was under the weather and suffering from some dehydration. Yale opened up with a backdoor play and a 4-0 lead, maintained its composure and actually held a 22-21 lead on a Blake Reynolds slam with about eight minutes remaining in the first half. The Bulldogs were actually effectively attacking the rim. Oni showed that he certainly belonged with the best of the Blue Devils at that juncture.
In the under-eight-minute media timeout, Coach K delivered a stern lecture to his players and they turned up the defensive pressure to gain a 41-32 lead at the half, largely predicated upon Yale turnovers and some inspired play by Duke reserve Jack White. Yale also left the floor in serious foul trouble.
Yale kept the deficit to 46-36 and then Duke went on a run, led by Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and White. The lead was 66-45 in no time. It ballooned to 83-56, as Barrett had 30 points and Williamson 20. At one point, the Duke students started a “We want Harvard” chant.
Alex Copeland was solid at the point and he and Oni led the Elis with 12 points. Oni also had nine rebounds in his 25 minutes of play, before he fouled out. Reynolds added 10.
Duke won 91-58 to improve to 9-1. With Gonzaga’s loss to Tennessee, the Blue Devils climbed to the No. 2 slot in the AP Top 25 Monday.
Given the snow and ice storm, the ride home went from an easy flight to a 10-hour drive. Not a lot of fun.
Yale fell to 5-3 and plays Albany, Jones’ alma mater, at home Tuesday night. Duke’s next game is a home contest after exams against Princeton on Dec. 18.