CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, angry over what he perceived as a lack of crowd control while his Blue Devils tried to leave the court following Thursday’s loss at Virginia, traded F-bombs with at least one fan and had to be restrained by security before being ushered into his locker room.
As students and fans at John Paul Jones Arena stormed the court after the Cavaliers’ 73-68 win over the No. 3 team in the nation, there was no rope line giving Duke’s players, coaches and personnel a path to get off the court, leaving them to fight their way through the crowd with aid from only a couple of security guards and a local policeman.
The 66-year-old Krzyzewski stopped and hollered an F-bomb at a fan before security could drag him away. Right behind the Hall of Fame coach were his players, some cursing at fans, some ignoring it and ducking into the hallway. Assistant coach Jeff Capel went back and yelled a few curse words while another assistant coach, Steve Wojciechowski, did his best to quickly usher players into the safe area.
“Whatever you’re doing, you need to get the team off first,” Krzyzewski said about 15 minutes later in the postgame news conference. “Look, celebrate, have fun, obviously you won, that’s cool. Just get our team off the court, and our coaching staff, before the students come on.
“Do you know how close you are to… Just put yourself in the position of one of our players or coaches, and I’m not saying any fan did this, but the potential is there all the time. But they can just go up to you and say, ‘Coach, you’re a …’ or push you or hit you or whatever. What do you do?
“What if you did something (in retaliation)? That would be the story, right? We deserve that type of protection. I’m always concerned about stuff like that, especially at this time of year. What if that happened and we get a kid suspended and that becomes the national story? It’s not all fun and games when people are running onto the court, especially for the team that lost.
“They should have fun and burn benches and do all the stuff … I’m all for that. They are a great school, great kids, but get us off the court, and that’s the bottom line.”
Krzyzewski brushed off his confrontation with the fan.
“We always get yelled at,” he said. “I’ve been called more things, about my mother or my kids; that’s something that’s happened for 25 years. That means nothing. Safety is something, and that’s what I’m talking about.”
Senior center Mason Plumlee was agitated over the lack of protection for him and his teammates.
Plumlee said he and other Blue Devils received tweets from Virginia students and fans about what might happen if they rushed the court.
“People run up to you; we don’t know any of these. People are tweeting us telling us they’re going to hit us in the (groin),” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen; guys should be defensive. Half these people are drunk. You don’t know what’s going to happen.
“They should do a better job, and I’m sure they’ll look and realize that, but (if) they run at us, it’s fair game. We’re just protecting ourselves.”
Plumlee and Seth Curry sat just a few feet apart in Duke’s locker room, physically drained but not confused about what had transpired over the previous two hours.
The game was more lopsided than the final score suggests. Duke trailed by 14 with nearly three minutes left and was reeling from a 36-point assault by Cavs star Joe Harris. Still, it was beaten soundly by a less-talented team. If a draft were held with players from both rosters, Virginia’s would be left nearly intact.
But for some reason Curry couldn’t explain why Duke didn’t match Virginia’s energy. And as a result, Duke simply couldn’t match Virginia.
“They were just physical,” said Curry, who had 23 of his 28 points in the second half. “They didn’t let us run our cuts the way we wanted to, they showed real hard on ball screens and trapped in the post. We just weren’t physical enough and we didn’t match their energy and physicality to start the game.”
The loss doomed Duke’s chances of winning the ACC title and, given Duke’s remaining schedule, earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament appears less likely. The Blue Devils host No. 5 Miami on Saturday evening — the Hurricanes beat then-No. 1 Duke by 27 in their first meeting — and close the regular season at surging North Carolina. Two more ACC losses could send the Devils to the fifth spot in the ACC Tournament, meaning Krzyzewski’s team would have to play on Thursday and win four games to capture the championship.
Now Duke (24-4, 11-4) must quickly regroup to take on an even more formidable opponent than Virginia (20-8, 10-5).
“That’s what we want,” Curry said. “We want to get back out on the court and play another game as soon as possible. Whenever you have a bad game like this as a team you want to get back out there and redeem yourself.”
Duke’s ugly numbers Thursday tell the tale:
The Blue Devils shot just 39.6 percent, including 32 percent from 3-point range, and that includes Curry’s 4-for-8 performance. Duke had just eight assists on 21 field goals, managed three fast-break points and an alarming five second-chance points. The Devils also were outrebounded by 11 in part because they were slow to box out on both ends of the floor.
Virginia was most effective not letting Plumlee, an ACC Player of the Year candidate, get comfortable touches. Plumlee, held to 10 points and seven rebounds, said he felt like there were always four and sometimes six eyes on him at all times, and no matter what, a Cavalier always was within an arm’s reach.
“Before the catch they were playing like a man-and-a-half, and then on the catch the 4-man would run and double,” said Plumlee, who came in averaging 17.5 points and 10.7 rebounds. “They were quick double teams. Sometimes they would stay with the double and sometimes they would go away.
“We worked on it in practice and I don’t know how we didn’t do a better job of making them pay for that.”
For Plumlee it was his second poor effort in two weeks. The other, a four-point, three-rebound game at Maryland, also led to a loss. Krzyzewski said the 6-foot-10 senior was tired.
Krzyzewski also suggested part of Duke’s problem is the absence of senior forward and third-leading scorer Ryan Kelly, who has missed the past 13 games with a foot injury but is close to returning. Without him, Plumlee has struggled at times with defenses laying off of Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson, the primary replacements for Kelly.
Neither player is much of a scoring threat, so doubling Plumlee has been a consistent game plan. It worked Thursday night.
“Those kids have done a good job for us but tonight they didn’t play very well,” Krzyzewski said. “We had zero offensive rebounds from that position and that position is not blocked out.”