Duke’s Jahlil Okafor feels Coach K’s wrath over missed dunk

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

Top seed Duke cruised to an 85-56 victory over 16th-seeded Robert Morris — and maybe the ease of said victory is what led Jahlil Okafor to get a little too … fancy.

Okafor towered above most of the Robert Morris lineup, and as a result, he had 21 points in 21 minutes on 9-of-11 shooting. It looked like a bit like a much older (and bigger) brother toying with siblings that weren’t physically able to slow him down, holding them away effortlessly with one hand as they helplessly flailed at him.

But one of the two dunks Okafor missed was one he won’t soon forget.

Fellow freshman Justise Winslow had a highlight-reel block on one end of the court, and a break started the other way. Best friend and another freshman Tyus Jones found Okafor downcourt, wide open for what should have been two points.

Okafor tried a reverse dunk. It did not go in. He grinned at himself sheepishly. His head coach was, um, not smiling.

There was 15:21 remaining in the game, and Duke was up by 19. Robert Morris’ Lucky Jones converted that miss into a layup to cut it to 17, then Duke’s Matt Jones hit a 3 to make it a 20-point lead again.

His head coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t care, and was still steaming. He called timeout two seconds after that made 3-pointer and was immediately up in the face of his star center. 

Almost the instant Okafor’s dunk bounced off, Krzyzewski was gesturing wildly down the bench for Marshall Plumlee to get into the game. He called time out specifically to sub Okafor out of the game, and continued to … express his displeasure. Loudly, and with colorful language. 

"That was kind of a scary sight. Obviously, we wanted the two points, but it was a learning experience, obviously," Duke sophomore Matt Jones said. "We don’t want Coach K to be that mad, ever."

The timeout to sub was also to give his talented freshman — and everyone else on the roster, by proxy — a message.

"You can’t do that. That’s the easy message. Like, don’t do that, especially don’t do it when you’ve played four consecutive minutes and you’re tired. You just can’t do that. So, I mean that’s an easy one," Krzyzewski said.

In the moments after the missed dunk, Okafor knew. He didn’t have to look at the bench.

"I went after myself after. I’m not sure what I was thinking leading up to that moment," Okafor said.

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Winslow was the one who was impacted the most by the missed dunk — the block remains impressive in its own right, but his hustle play went for naught.

When asked his immediate reaction to the miss, Winslow smiled. "I was a little disappointed, but Jah’s going to make that nine out of 10 times, so I’m not worried about that. But coach wasn’t too happy," Winslow said. "He wants us to not get fancy, just stick to the fundamentals and to the simple things."

Right after the missed dunk, the Robert Morris contingent — which was vocal — chanted "O-ver-ra-ted!" at him.

"I’ve been hearing that my entire life, since high school. It’s something that I’ve become accustomed to," Okafor said, shrugging.

Okafor won’t be hearing that much longer. But in a way, Robert Morris disproved that notion quickly — while Okafor sat, they went on an 8-0 run in a little over 90 seconds.

That was enough, and Okafor came back in. Robert Morris cut the lead to 10 points twice. Duke went on a 12-0 run after the under-12 media timeout in the span of a little less than three minutes, and Okafor came out at the 8:54 mark when Duke had rebuilt its lead to 20. He didn’t come back.

Every team is different. Some coaches will be mad even if a player makes the shot or dunk if they consider it ill-advised. Krzyzewski’s rule is not quite like that.

The rule for him is if you’re going to try something fancy, you’d better make it. Although even freshman Grayson Allen can read between the lines.

"So in other words," Allen said, "don’t try anything fancy. Just make the play."

A wise move.