NEW YORK— Former New York Knick John Starks said Madison Square Garden is where legends are made. Though any player on the Runnin’ Utes’ roster has a way to go before claiming legend status, the contest between Utah and Duke on Saturday afternoon could be described as “legendary.”
After finishing regulation tied 60-60, the two teams took to overtime to settle the score. In the extra period, the Runnin’ Utes used a 9-3 run to kick it off and never looked back. A series of fouls and foul shots occurred down the stretch, but in the end, Utah did enough to upset No. 7 Duke 77-75 at MSG.
“I’m kind of speechless,” said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak following the win.
It was certainly a hard-earned victory for Utah, who nearly blew it in the end.
Duke guard Luke Kennard made things interesting with under 10 seconds left in overtime, hitting a big three-pointer over Lorenzo Bonam, who also fouled him on the play. Kennard knocked down the free throw to make it just a two-point Utah lead, and then Dakarai Tucker mishandled the ensuing inbounds pass to give the Blue Devils a chance with 6.4 seconds remaining.
On that next possession, Brandon Ingram drove it to the lane in what could have been the game-tying bucket, but it banked off of the back rim. Kyle Kuzma secured the board to seal the deal. The tension in the air at MSG was thick, and it wasn’t until that last rebound that Utah could feel at ease.
“It’s unbelievable,” said big man Jakob Poeltl of the environment. “Especially when both sides of fans really woke up and the whole gym was on fire. It’s amazing to play here … it’s one of the greatest experience of my life so far.”
Leading the way for the Runnin’ Utes was Kuzma, who finished with 21 points and eight rebounds, and Poeltl, who had his way — when he wasn’t in foul trouble — with 19 points and 14 board for the double-double.
“It was a very, very emotional win, a great win,” Poeltl said. “To come out and play at MSG against Duke and end up with the win, it’s just a great feeling.”
As a team, Utah shot 45.2 percent from the field but really excelled from the free throw line. An Achilles heel to the Utes in the past, they knocked down a respectable 18-of-23 from the charity stripe in a game in which they needed every point they could get.
It wasn’t a great start for Utah, who couldn’t afford to fall behind the No. 7 team in the land early on. After a Derryck Thornton three-pointer, the Blue Devils were up 8-2 just three minutes into the game as the Runnin’ Utes struggled to defend the perimeter.
Then, it was the Poeltl show. On the next four possessions, the Austrian big man scored on three of them and assisted, while the defense held Duke’s offense in check to take the 10-8 lead, 15:05 to go in the first half.
The Runnin’ Utes led the rest of the first half, but it wasn’t easy. After Poeltl picked up his second foul with 4:11 to go, Krystkowiak was forced to take his best player off the court. Two minutes later, Marshall Plumlee — Duke’s tallest player — picked up his second foul, and it was small ball the remainder of the half.
Thanks to Bonam and Kuzma, who scored 12 points together in the first half, the Utes were able to stay afloat without Poeltl on the floor and headed to the locker room with the 33-30 advantage.
After a few empty possessions filled the start of the second half, Allen recorded his first bucket of the game with a three-pointer from the corner to tie the game up 33-33. Right before that, Poeltl picked up his third foul of the game, forcing Krystkowiak to take him out of the game.
On the other bench, Krzyzewski opted to keep his big man, Plumlee, in the game with three fouls, and it came back to bite the Blue Devils. Plumlee picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, forcing him to sit, which opened up an opportunity for Utah.
Under the brightest lights, it was Kuzma who stepped up with Poeltl on the bench. After Allen’s three-pointer, Kuzma went on a personal 7-0 run, capped by converting an and-one layup to give Utah the 40-33 lead with 15:41 left in the game.
“I started off the game pretty rough,” Kuzma said. “I think I had a little jitters from just playing in the Garden. I just came in at halftime and really got dialed in. I could be a big part of it if I do that, and it worked out for me.”
But, like good teams do, the Blue Devils responded. After holding a nine-point lead and having the chance to completely take over, the Ute defense allowed Duke to go on a 14-2 run. Duke eventually took the lead after Matt Jones pulled up for three to give the Blue Devils their first lead of the second half, 47-44, with 11:10 left in the game.
In a game of runs, there was much back-and-forth play between the two teams the entire way. This was evident by regulation ending in a 60-60 stalemate before heading to the overtime period.
Utah will look to ride this big win through the rest of the year before starting Pac-12 play at Stanford on New Years Day.