A young Duke fans acknowledges Coach K's milestone at the Greensboro Coliseum. CHUCK LIDDY - email@example.com
GREENSBORO - The horde of cameramen surrounding Mike Krzyzewski as he walked onto the court would have seemed more appropriate for a visiting head of state than a basketball coach.
But Krzyzewski was about to surpass one of the most sacred numbers in a sport that’s approached with religious fervor in North Carolina. Everything else took a back seat Wednesday night at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The game was never in doubt because top-ranked Duke and Krzyzewski entered the game undefeated, while UNC Greensboro was winless in 11 games. So all eyes were on Krzyzewski as he won his 880th game to move past former North Carolina coach Dean Smith into second place on Division I career coaching victory list.
An enthusiastic, largely pro-Duke crowd in an arena with few empty seats greeted Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils as they won 108-62 behind 27 points from Kyle Singler and 26 points and nine assists from Nolan Smith.
The game itself was predictably anticlimactic.
Duke (12-0) scored 15 of the first 17 points as Smith and Singler dominated. By halftime, Smith had 22 points, Singler had 15 and the Blue Devils held a commanding, 53-32 advantage.
Krzyzewski coached with his usual, fiery passion as Duke added to its lead. When freshman forward Josh Hairston free lanced and dribbled the ball off his foot for a turnover, Krzyzewski shouted.
“Run the play,” he said.
In the closing minutes, with Duke leading by more than 40 points, Krzyzewski continued to shout instructions as the Blue Devils advanced the ball up the floor. Duke is still adjusting to playing without freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed his fourth straight game with a serious foot injury and will return to Durham this weekend after an extended holiday stay in New Jersey.
Without Irving, Duke is reconfiguring its team and every possession counts. That principle guided Smith to what was a Division I-record 879 wins when he retired in 1997. And it has helped Krzyzewski eclipse Smith’s number.
And although the obsession with Krzyzewski’s numbers will abate, a fan seated in a corner of the lower arena held up a sign reminding everybody that another big number is within reach.
Krzyzewski played point guard for Bob Knight at Army. Now there’s a chance he will surpass Knight’s Division I-record career total of 902 wins in the NCAA tournament in March.
“You’re next, Bobby,” the sign read.
If that number comes into play in March, though, there will be a lot more at stake on the court for Krzyzewski and the team than there was Wednesday.