Four decades, 1,202 wins, 101 NCAA Tournament victories and five national championships later, Mike Krzyzewski is hanging up the clipboard.
Duke’s Final Four loss to North Carolina marked the end of Coach K’s illustrious career as the most winningest college basketball head coach of all time announced in June 2021 he would retire upon the conclusion of this season.
Krzyzewski’s final game was a thriller against the Tar Heels, Duke’s biggest rival, in another chapter of one of the most iconic rivalries in sports.
After North Carolina spoiled Coach K’s final home game in Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier in the season, the Blue Devils had a chance at revenge for a spot in the national championship game.
Duke, which entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed, held a narrow 37-34 lead at halftime and extended it to 41-34 in the early minutes of the second half. However, No. 8 North Carolina did not go down without a fight. Sophomore guard Caleb Love led a 13-0 run to give North Carolina a 47-41 lead, and from there, the game went down as a classic.
When the game was knotted up at 67 with 3:32 remaining, there were already 13 lead changes. Five more would ensue to close out the game, but it was Love’s pull-up 3-pointer with 24.5 seconds left that sealed Duke’s fate.
All the cameras turned to Krzyzewski at the final buzzer.
Though Duke lost, Krzyzewski once again made history. The game marked his 13th appearance in the Final Four, breaking the tie he had with John Wooden at 12. Despite coming up short, Krzyzewski understood the emotions would be high regardless of the result.
“I thought both teams played their hearts out,” Coach K said after the game. “It’s an emotional win and it’s an emotional loss. And that’s the way a game like this should be.”
But before he reflected on his thoughts about ending his career in a heartbreaking loss, Krzyzewski emphasized prioritizing his players’ emotions first.
“Just for my players, I’ll deal with me later,” Krzyzewski said. “For me, my entire time coaching I always wanted at the end of the year whatever the last game is where you’re either crying for joy or you’re crying for sorrow. And if you are, that means you’ve put everything into it.”
His statements during his postgame presser echoed a similar statement: lift up the spirits of his young players first.
“It’s not about me, especially right now,” Krzyzewski said. “As a coach, I’m just concerned about these guys…I don’t want any of these guys to leave and say ‘I should’ve made that one free throw.’ We win and we lose together.”
If Duke had won, it would have moved on to the national championship game to take on No. 1 Kansas. However, five college titles will have to suffice for Coach K.
And he definitely put everything into it.