On November 29th, 2011, I was just another Duke fan racing home to catch whatever was left of the Blue Devils contest against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the ACC/Big-10 Challenge. I was wearing my JJ Redick jersey, and my brisk walk couldn’t get from my college to my apartment fast enough. This had become one of the rare times in my life where I felt completely cut off from the sports’ world, with my phone sitting back in my apartment, one of the many left-behind items I had forgotten in my race to get to school on time. So, walking faster, I hadn’t a clue what the score was, but my optimistic mind assumed the best:
-I’m sure Duke is winning. They’re probably not up by much, but I’m sure they’re winning.
-Even if they’re losing, I’m SURE Coach K will bring them back!
Finally reaching my apartment, I hopped onto my couch and flipped on the television, eagerly awaiting the end of the commercial break. It turns out I had made it back just in time for the start of the second half. Duke was losing 47-28. I was confused and angry.
Maybe other Duke fans won’t admit it, but I will: we are a spoiled fanbase. We expect a victory every single time the Blue Devils take the court and a loss, regardless of the opponent, stings for days. Blowouts? Those don’t happen. Teams don’t abuse the Blue Devils because the Blue Devils are supposed to be too good and too well coached. Yes, this sounds about as bratty as can be, but it is the truth of how all of us Duke fans think. Honestly, I don’t know how any of us survived the 2006-2007 season.
It is because of this belief system that I reached a point of denial when I saw the score. Did the scoreboard operators have it wrong? Is this a joke? What the hell is going on?
What the hell did go on?
Ohio State, playing behind their awesomely awesome home crowd, played as sharp as ever in every facet of the game, knocking down 59.3% of their shots and 57.1% of their three-pointers, out-rebounding Duke, out-hustling Duke, and out-everything Duke. The Blue Devils’ response? They shot 3-15 from three-point range, committed twelve turnovers, and played defense so poorly that people began thinking that maybe the football team’s defense wasn’t so bad after all. Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee were the only ones who did anything on offense, with Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins combining for a whopping 7 points.
Duke would perform better in the second half, once Ohio State seemed to ease up a bit, but the blowout was never in question: this Duke team couldn’t touch this Ohio State team that night.
Would the blowout derail the Blue Devils the rest of the season? No. Duke would win nine of their next ten games, finish 13-3 in the ACC, and would only lose one more game by more than five points the rest of the season. It would, however, give us all a realistic look at how weak the 2011-2012 Duke team actually was. They didn’t have a leader and, once a game started to spiral out of control, they didn’t have anyone to settle the team down on the court (Coach K can only do so much). It exposed their lack of an elite player to run the offense, and it showed the team turned into a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off once a game started getting out of control.
I’m not saying it showed that the 2011-2012 Duke Blue Devils were a bad team, because they weren’t, but it showed that the team had a long ways to go if they even had a shred of a chance at winning a National Championship. And, as we all know, they wouldn’t win a National Championship, falling to #15 seed Lehigh in the opening round of the tournament.
I think we all got a feeling that Duke wasn’t going to be a special team on that ugly night in November. We didn’t want to admit it, but the team felt completely and totally mortal.
This year, Duke has already proved themselves on a nightly basis against some of the better teams in the nation, highlighted by impressive victories over #2 Louisville and #3 Kentucky. This Ohio State game is bigger than those, though. This Ohio State game is everything a lot of us has been waiting for ever since the schedule for this season was announced. Is it a chance for revenge? Sure. Is it a chance to add another nice victory to their resume? Absolutely. What is it really about, though? Making a statement. Above all else, this game is Duke stepping up and showing the nation that this isn’t the team that lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season. This game is them showing the nation that they have all the leaders and scorers and talented freshman in place and that everyone should be afraid of them because of it. This game may turn out to be the most important game they play this entire season and it will certainly be one of, if not the absolute, toughest games they’re involved in.
November 29, 2011? That was a terrible night.
November 28, 2012? It could be a night of redemption, or a night of Ohio State finishing off their dismantling of Coach K’s historic program. We’ll know which one it is in just a few hours.
Give ‘em hell, Devils.