The Great Duke Experiment of 2019 Is Over

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31:  Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils is interviewed in the locker room after his teams 68-67 loss to the Michigan State Spartans in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
First and last dance. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Duke is done, but the dance goes on. Michigan State eked out a 68–67 win over the Blue Devils on Sunday and secured its place in the Final Four. It was Duke’s third straight tournament game to be decided by 2 points or fewer, but the more experienced Spartans were able to dribble out the clock and avoid any last-second miracles.

Even though they were assembled to make history, Mike Krzyzewski’s all-world recruiting class will have to settle for just one Elite Eight appearance. Next weekend’s semifinal games will mark the first time since preseason that Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones are not the center of the college basketball universe. Michigan State elbowed them off the stage thanks to terrific defense, rebounding, and a peach of a play that freed up senior Kenny Goins to drain the go-ahead 3-pointer with 39 seconds left on the clock.

Williamson had been his usual dominant self all evening (24 points, 14 rebounds), but it was Barrett who assumed control during Duke’s final possession. He was fouled on a drive to the hoop but split the ensuing free throw attempts. The Blue Devils then found themselves in an odd position. They would need to intentionally put the Spartans on the line to extend the game, but Duke hadn’t committed enough fouls during the second half to advance Michigan State to the bonus. In the end, Krzyzewski’s squad was undone by some friendly whistles.

Michigan State will go up against Texas Tech on Saturday. To watch Duke’s stars play, you will have to wait a little longer, at least until NBA Summer League. Last year’s Blue Devils had three freshman selected in the draft, and it’s possible that this season’s exodus will be even greater.

Nothing is guaranteed during March Madness, even with a recruiting class fit for the pros. The only thing Duke can count on is having to start from scratch again next year.