While Wisconsin looked like the team of destiny and had a solid lead in the second half of the 2015 National Championship game, Duke would not be denied.
The Blue Devils (35-4) defeated Wisconsin 68-63 to win the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship on Monday night in Indianapolis just two days after the Badgers took down No. 1 overall Kentucky in the Final Four.
Despite foul trouble by center Jahlil Okafor and forward Justise Winslow and trailing by as many as nine points in the second half, Duke won its fifth national championship.
The Blue Devils won with only eight scholarship players, and their bench outscored Wisconsin’s 18-7.
“They showed such grit [Monday] night,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said on CBS. “Our bench was spectacular, and like we said about two months ago, ‘eight is enough,’ eight is enough.”
With their highly touted freshmen of Okafor and Winslow sentenced to the bench for a portion of the game, a couple of rookie guards stepped up: Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award winner.
Allen scored 16 points, 10 in the second half, and Jones scored 23 points, with 19 coming in the second half.
“We were kind of dead in the water,” Krzyzewski said. “We were nine points down, and Grayson just put us on his back, and then once he got us in striking distance, we just said, ‘Tyus, run high ball screens and be you.’ That’s great coaching, I guess.”
Wisconsin lost despite a double-double from Badger forward Frank Kaminsky, who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. He was named Naismith College Player of the Year, and was the first player with 20 points and 10 rebounds in both the semifinal and championship game since Carmelo Anthony did it for Syracuse in 2003.
The Badgers shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc, unlike the 66.7 percent they shot from three in their 85-78 win over Arizona in the Elite Eight. They shot 41.2 percent from deep in their 71-64 win over Kentucky.
“They played great, great defense,” Krzyzewski said. “If we don’t get stops, we don’t win the game.”
The Badgers faced the toughest possible road to the championship after the second round: eighth-seeded Oregon, No. 4 seed North Carolina, No. 2 seed Arizona, overall No. 1 seed Kentucky and another No. 1 seed, Duke.
The Badgers’ run was much like Duke’s run in 1991, except for the end result. After UNLV spanked the Blue Devils 103-73 in the 1990 National Championship game, Duke ended the Runnin’ Rebels undefeated season in the 1991 rematch.
“We beat a great team, a great program and one of the best guys in coaching, in Bo Ryan,” Krzyzewski said about Wisconsin and their coach.
The game was tied 31-31 at halftime, the first time the National Championship game has been tied at halftime since 1988. There were five ties and 16 lead changes.
While the Badgers had a nice lead, they just didn’t have enough to finish off a third straight top-two seed in a row, missing seven of their last nine field goals and letting the Blue Devils close the game on a 12-5 run.
“My teammates and my coaching staff, they’ve given me confidence and they believed in me and trusted in me all year, and there’s never been a moment where they doubt me,” Jones said on CBS about his second half.
Duke had some help from the referees but won Krzyzewski’s fifth national title, second only to former UCLA coach John Wooden.
“Man, I love these guys; I love being a part of this program,” Duke captain Quinn Cook said. “It’s been the best four years of my life, a true blessing — and dreams come true and all work pays off, and this is an example.”