To cement himself as the all-time leader in wins in college basketball history, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has to pass both his arch-rival and his mentor to inscribe his name in the record books.
After his Blue Devils took apart the University of North Carolina-Greensboro 108-62 on December 29, it's now one down, one to go.
Coach K now is in second place all-time with 880 career wins, surpassing legendary UNC coach Dean Smith and now he stands just 22 victories from tying former Indiana and Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight for the title of winningest coach, reports ESPN.
Krzyzewski sounded humble in his post-game press conference.
"I don't want to take any of that too seriously, but rather say, 'I'm one of the guys who's won a lot of games," he said. "To share a spotlight with Dean and [Knight], that's a great honor."
When the buzzer sounded, Krzyzewski hugged UNC Greensboro coach—and former assistant—Mike Dement before making his way across the court for a television interview. The Hall of Fame coach waved to the Duke fans who helped pack the 23,000-seat Greensboro Coliseum.
“When I walked out and saw it was a full house, and so many Duke fans, I did take a moment to reflect back to when I first got to North Carolina and there weren’t very many Duke shirts,” Krzyzewski said.
Kyle Singler scored 27 points and Nolan Smith had 22 of his season-high 26 points in the first half for the Blue Devils (12-0), who shrugged off an eight-day break and shot a season-best 60.9 percent, scored 42 points off 23 turnovers and hit the 100-point mark for the second time.
“We knew it was a big deal, but to be honest, we didn’t really know how big the deal really is,” Singler said. “It’s just kind of crazy that you’re going through the time where you’re getting coached by Coach K and I guess you don’t really realize it until it’s all over. Just a really special thing to experience with him.”
The reigning national champions won their 22nd straight, pushing Krzyzewski past the man who coached the Tar Heels for 36 seasons before retiring in 1997 as the winningest coach in Division I history. Knight then passed Smith and retired nearly three years ago.
“I congratulate Mike on this milestone victory,” Smith said in a statement issued by North Carolina following the game. “I am sure he would want to share the credit for the wins with all his players and staff. I enjoyed competing against Mike’s teams throughout the years I was at UNC. I wish him continued health and personal success.”
If the Blue Devils run through the rest of their schedule undefeated, Krzyzewski—who is 880-279 in his 36th season as a head coach—will catch Knight in this same arena in March in the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and pass him in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t want to make it sound less than what it is, but number of wins, you have to be healthy, you have to have really good players, you have to have commitment from your school,” Krzyzewski said. “So, I don’t know if that’s as much an achievement as much as the result of having all those things. And so I’m not going to look at this as an achievement. When you win a championship … those are achievements. The number of wins, you have to win a certain number of games—especially the last one—to get an achievement.”
The Greensboro Coliseum, located roughly an hour’s drive from Duke’s campus in Durham, has become a second home for Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils, who haven’t been beaten here since a loss to Maryland in the 2004 ACC title game. They won the league tournament here for the fifth time under Krzyzewski last March before rolling through the NCAA tournament on the way claiming to their fourth national title, and haven’t lost since.
“Outside of doing it in Cameron” Indoor Stadium, Krzyzewski said, “this is the place you would want to do it.”
Seth Curry scored 15 points, Miles Plumlee and Andre Dawkins added 11 apiece and Ryan Kelly scored 10 for the Blue Devils, who hadn’t played since Dec. 20. This was their fourth straight game without freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who averages a team-best 17.4 points but remains out indefinitely with an injured big toe on his right foot.
They certainly didn’t need him against the winless Spartans, who offered little resistance in falling to 0-3 against No. 1 teams in the program’s history.
“I wished we could have given them a little bit better fight, a little bit better game,” Dement said.
Duke opened the game on a 15-2 run, went up by double figures to stay roughly 6 1/2 minutes in, and outscored UNC Greensboro 22-7 midway through the half to open up a permanent 20-point lead. Singler’s jumper in traffic with about 7:15 left made it 39-15 and Smith’s fast-break dunk roughly 5 minutes later gave the Blue Devils their largest lead of the half, 49-24.
Duke’s 53 first-half points were a season high, and by the break, Smith was two points shy of his season high. He finished three away from the career-best 29 points he scored against Baylor in the South Regional final last March. Smith made it a 30-point game when his layup with 14 minutes left pushed it to 71-40.
“I think knowing what was at stake, I wanted to be a little more aggressive, Kyle wanted to be a little more aggressive,” Smith said. “Coach gives us so much, and he always has our back. I think both of us, in the backs of our minds, we wanted to have Coach’s back tonight.”
Aaron Brackett had 14 points to lead UNC Greensboro (0-12). The Spartans previously fell to top-ranked Duke teams in 1997 and 2005, dropped to 0-9 all-time against the Blue Devils and have just one win against an ACC school.
“A lot of irony from my standpoint, to get involved with this game,” said Dement, a member of Krzyzewski’s staff from 1982-83. “All of us who grew up in North Carolina, as younger guys and as coaches, we all studied Dean Smith. We read his books and copied him. … It was a lot of irony that came into this, but a lot of reflection, too.”
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