THE DILLO — As I sat at a cramped table in the Armadillo Grill in the basement of the Bryan Center surrounded by Dukies too nervous to down their Coronas or queso, the same names kept flashing through my mind:
Richmond over Syracuse. Santa Clara over Arizona. Coppin State over South Carolina. Hampton over Iowa State.
Belmont over Duke.
Only four No. 2 seeds have gone down in the history of the NCAA Tournament. With my eyes as fixed to the screen as K seemed to be on the bench all night, I couldn’t help but think that the Blue Devils were about to be on the wrong side of history. Maybe this was my punishment for jumping on the Duke bandwagon when I got to campus three years ago—the first back-to-back first-round losses in the Big Dance under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Maybe this Duke was overrated, plain and simple. Maybe Belmont was actually that good. Whatever it was, it looked bad. And the crowd in the Dillo that would have made the fire marshal sweat at tip had looked as lifeless as, well, Duke, ever since nine-minute mark in the second, the last time the Blue Devils had outright claim of a lead. Sixteen ticks left, still down one, we were all waiting for something: either one play that would send us out of our seats or a botched set that would leave us slouching in our chairs under the weight of one of the biggest upsets in Tourney history.
Then came Gerald. We sat up a little higher. Clenched our fists. This was it. Henderson stole the ball at the Bruin end and somehow you just knew he was going to take it all the way to the hoop or it was going to be all over. The 6-foot-4 swingman elevated over Belmont’s Matthew Dotson and Justin Hare and laid it in. The Duke bench flashed on the TV, jumping up and down, and the crowd erupted into the most relieved screams I’ve ever heard.
There was still time left, though, and the way the Bruins had been answering Duke all night long, the excitement had died down about as quickly as it had started. A Belmont 30-second timeout. A final possession. One last chance at making history. The Bruins set to inbound the ball with just over four seconds left in the contest. Suddenly, flashing through the paint was senior DeMarcus Nelson , and it seemed that as soon as the ball got in play it was in the captain’s hands. (Where did he come from? With a meager two points, I thought K’s “rock” was accidentally left in Durham somewhere until this very moment). The fans erupted again, this time is was sustained. The Bruins got a decent desperation look with two ticks, but just like they did, the shot fell short.
Everyone seemed to take a collective sigh, some people mumbled some curses under their breaths and many started to file out of the campus dive. All had just evaded being a party to what could have been one of the five most famous losses of all-time.
Belmont over Duke Not this time. Best of luck to American, though.
–by Meredith Shiner