We’re not speaking for everyone, of course, but this has already been a wildly entertaining college basketball season.
Here we are, on the eve of Thanksgiving, and three renown national powerhouses have already been slayed by overwhelming underdogs.
Kentucky was toppled by Evansville at Rupp Arena. Michigan State was upended by Virginia Tech in Hawaii. And then on Tuesday night at Duke, Stephen F. Austin, a significant underdog even in less hostile environments, beat No. 1 Duke 85-83 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Arena.
The Lumberjacks, a 27 1/2-point dog, chopped down an icon in its own house.
This was no accident. Duke had its hands full from the start. After blowing a 15-point lead in the second half, the Blue Devils were the ones put in situations late in the game where they had to make critical shots to stay close. It was a scenario they were accustomed to. Only flipped.
You could sense it coming: With every possession, the pressure on them increased, the noose tightened, the confidence of their opponent soared. Duke never loses these games at home. They couldn’t lose. Could they?
And then it happened. Nathan Bain gathered a loose ball in the backcourt, sprinted through two defenders like a receiver on a post pattern, and very carefully kissed the dagger off the glass, right over the outstretched hand of Duke’s Jack White.
At that point, college basketball as we knew it experienced great change. Look out below, the Top 25 is about to be reset.
“I saw my teammate grab it, and I looked up at the clock. We had about 2.6 seconds,” Bain told the media after the game. “I was like, ‘I have to get on my horse.’ I went as fast as I can to try to lay it up. It’s like a layup drill. I could feel the dude on my back, and I just prayed it [would] go in.
“We did what people said was the impossible. … It wasn’t the impossible to us. …Time definitely slowed down a lot. I was like, man, I feel like this 2.6 seconds is going like slooooow. Like in the movies, you know?”
Precisely. You get the girl, you cuff the criminal and you win like Hoosiers.
According to the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, it was the largest upset in a men’s Division I game in 15 years.
Stephen F. Austin, which was 14-16 last season, came to Cameron at 4-1, coming off a 12-point loss at Rutgers. But they were also second in the nation in turnover percentage, according to the analytical site KenPom.com. The Lumberjacks were able to pressure the ball. And they did.
It wasn’t an especially frenetic overtime. There wasn’t a lot of scoring. What it came down to was the final sequence with the game tied at 83. Guard Tre Jones could have won the game for Duke, but he missed a mid-range jumper.
Duke’s Wendell Moore wiped the offensive board and whipped it back out to Jones. Took the ball to the rim with nine seconds remaining, but ultimately decided to dish it off to Matthew Hurt.
Hurt could not handle the ball. Actually, it deflected off his knee. And that’s when Lumberjack forward Gavin Kensmil dug it out of a wild scrum, got the outlet pass to Bain and watched him close out the biggest win in the history of the program.
The loss snapped Duke’s 150-game nonconference home winning streak, the longest active in Division I. They hadn’t lost under similar circumstances since St. John’s – when it was still relevant – beat them on Feb. 26, 2000.
Let’s admit it, if this were March, people would be talking about it for decades.
“It’s a very difficult loss. It’s also a loss that if we would have won, we would not have been deserving of winning,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That’s the way I look at it, so it’s on me, but you have to give credit to them. They were really good, he’s a good coach and a good program, and they outplayed us.”
The Lumberjacks made just two threes. They scored 64 points in the paint. ESPN tells us it’s the most Duke has allowed in a game in the past 10 seasons. And Duke helped things along by missing 16 free throws, their most at Cameron in 11 seasons.
“They were better. Bottom line,” Krzyzewski said. “They were tougher than we were, they played with great poise. And we helped them. You can’t give up 64 points in the paint. We don’t even give up 64 points. And we gave up so many layups.
“You go 11-of-24 from the foul line in the second half, it’s just a recipe to lose. So we weren’t deserving of winning. That team was deserving of winning, and they won.”
Making the upset even more special was the Lumberjacks have been dealing with the flu. It had the sniffles. It was congested. And it showed before the game.
“We’ve actually practiced pretty terrible this week,” SFA coach Kyle Keller said. “I told my wife today, I said, I hope we continue to fight. Just next man up, like they talk about in the NFL.”
As the final seconds played out, Bain racing down the floor in hopes of getting off a shot before time expired, Keller was anxiously watching it all.
“You guys seen Forrest Gump? Run, Nate, run. That’s what I was thinking,” Keller said. “I did look up at the clock then. I thought, man, Nate’s had about five surgeries since he’s been there, broken ankle, we practice about every other day — and I was hoping he wasn’t gonna try to dunk it because I didn’t think he could jump that high this late in the game.”
But Bain could jump that high. And so could his teammates. They pulled off an upset that will bolster the program’s reputation for years, perhaps help a doubting committee member vouch for its candidacy as an at-large team in this season’s NCAA Tournament.
“I was like, no need for the spectacular,” Bain said. “It’s going to be spectacular when we win the game.”