Kyrie Irving, Duke's star freshman point guard, sat on the bench in an argyle sweater with less stylish protective boot safeguarding his injured toe, only a witness to history Wednesday night as Krzyzewski passed the longtime Kentucky coach with a 83-48 win over Bradley.
Irving wasn't needed against an overmatched Braves squad also slowed by its own injury problems, but it was as clear as the gray boot on his foot, that Irving's luxury status won't last long.
When his return might be, however, is uncertain. After the game, Krzyzewski raised the possibility that his return may be in jeopardy altogether.
"It's a serious injury," the Duke coach said. "I can't say anything more because we are learning information but it is serious ... and whatever final decision is made will obviously be what's in his best interest and his career.Irving's injury is the first real downbeat for Duke this season, which, in the words of Kyle Singler earlier this year is a program "with a glow around it." Singler passed up a likely first-round NBA draft selection to help Duke defend its title last spring and since the co-captain's decision to return, it's been something of a victory lap season for the defending champions. On the court, Irving quickly flourished, recently peaked by a 31-point virtuoso performance against Michigan State, while Mason Plumlee emerged as a star in the paint and shooters Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry have emerged as top talents. Through nine games, six different players led the team in scoring. Meanwhile, coach Mike Krzyzewski has passed milestones faster than milemarkers. He won his 800th game at Duke in November, passed Rupp on the all-time wins last Wednesday night, and will eclipse former rival Dean Smith in late December.
"He could possibly be out for the year."
"He could possibly be out for the year."
Irving's injury, however, has changed the complexion of the season.
Or at least it will. On the court Wednesday night, Irving's teammates picked up his production.
Sophomore Andre Dawkins led the Blue Devils with a career-high 28 points, starting in the slot freed by the absent point guard. Dawkins hit eight 3-pointers, mostly of the wide-open variety. The eight treys are one off Duke's school record for long-distance shots in a game, trailing Shane Battier and J.J. Redick, who both connected on nine.
"Andre was unbelievable," MIles Plumlee said. "I know how much talent we've got on this team, and I'm excited for everybody to step up and show it when they get the opportunities. It's definitely different without Kyrie [Irving], but it's a great challenge for our team to grow into something even better."
For Dawkins, it must have been a bittersweet breakout performance. His career night came one year and a day after he took leave of the team following the death of his sister in a car crash, while she was traveling to watch Dawkins play.
Meanwhile, senior Nolan Smith, who assumed point duties full time Wednesday night, handed out 10 assists as he eased into the lead guard role.
Duke carried a 14-point lead into the locker room at halftime, but expanded the advantage to 28 with a 21-7 lead to open the second half that effectively closed the game.
Without Irving, it was a tale of two halves.
The Blue Devils scored just 32 points before halftime with an offense that was less functional -- and certainly less flashy -- without its starting point guard. Duke guards struggled to, or were reluctant to, drive against either the Braves' man-to-man or 2-3 zone, but zipped the ball around the perimeter to find open shooters.
In the second half, Duke found its shooter's touch. The Blue Devils lacked their breakneck transition game and the guards didn't pressure as far out on the perimeter as usual, but Duke committed just nine turnovers and relied on its supply of 3-point shooters again and again and again. The Blue Devils hit 10-of-16 from behind the arc in the second half.
Dawkins hit 8-of-14 from deep, Kyle Singler, who had been in something of a shooting slump this season, sank 4-of-9 and Seth Curry dropped 2-of-4.
Walt Lemon led Bradley with 14 points. Andre Warren, the Braves leading scorer, didn't manage a point for the first 23 minutes and finished with just seven, due largely to the defensive work of Singler.
Krzyzewski, who has downplayed his climb up college basketball's coaching ladder, did so again Wednesday night. In the moments after the final horn, he simply clapped, adjusted the fit of his suit and went to congratulate the opposing team. With few exceptions, it was a carbon copy of the previous 876.
"For me it's obviously a heck of thing, but I really don't, I have never really dwelled on anything like that, the number of national championships or number of wins," Krzyzewski said.
He now trails just Dean Smith (879) and Bob Knight (902) on the all-time wins list.
But on what should have been a night of celebration, the story wasn't how many for Mike Krzyzewski; it was how long for Kyrie Irving.
How it Was Won: Good guard play. How did Duke's offense look without Kyrie Irving? Like a hockey player skating on a set of butter knives at times. The intent was clear, but the Blue Devils ran more set plays and passed around the perimeter more than they would with Irving driving and putting the ball into an open player's hands. Partially, it was because the undersized Braves seemed content to force Duke to beat them on the outside, so the Blue Devils took what was available, but a series of breakouts that would've turned into fastbreak points with Irving turned into halfcourt possessions with Smith. But credit Smith for doing almost everything right. He had just two turnovers and Duke committed just nine for the game. Even without Irving, the Blue Devils could play well enough to be a top-five team.
How It Was Lost: Bradley had about as much hope of keeping Krzyzewski from Rupp's win total as the Kentucky coach himself did, but the Braves defensive intensity lasted while the game was still within reach. They wore down, but held Duke to 32 in the first half while coach Jim Les did all he could to keep the game in reach.
Key Stat: Duke's nine turnovers had plenty to do with the win, but so too did the 15-of-33 shooting from 3-point range.
What We Didn't Like: The Braves seemed content to pack in their defense to compensate for a lack of size, but Duke needs to find a way to keep Mason Plumlee (two points, seven rebounds) involved offensively. Smith did a nice job of finding the elder Plumlee under the basket for a couple of alley-oops, but touches were few and far between for Mason. With its deep supply of 3-point shooters, it would be too easy, and exceptionally problematic, for Duke to become a jumpshooting only team.