WASHINGTON, D.C. — Duke learned in warm-ups Friday that it would be without star freshman Cam Reddish, then relied on a host of supporting players to overcome Virginia Tech 77-75 to advance to the Elite Eight.
Reddish told coaches his knee was bothering him before warm-ups, and Mike Krzyzewski said he was walking with a limp. There was some discussion on whether he would play, but he ultimately decided against it.
“I talked to him before the game, and he was skeptical about whether he wanted to play,” Zion Williamson said afterward. “I was like, ‘If you can’t go out there and play, you won’t be letting us down.'”
Williamson said he could tell from Reddish’s demeanor pregame that the knee was seriously bothering him, though Krzyzewski offered little context on the severity of the injury or the cause.
Zion Williamson soared for a two-handed, rim-rattling, crowd-thrilling alley-oop slam that gave Duke its biggest lead during a tight tussle against Virginia Tech in the East Region semifinals.
“We’ve prepared all week with that lineup,” Krzyzewski said. “And then, boom, right before the start of the game [Reddish] can’t play.”
Krzyzewski offered no update on Reddish’s availability for Sunday’s game against Michigan State with a Final Four bid at stake.
Reddish was in uniform, and Duke originally listed him among the starters, but sophomore guard Alex O’Connell took his place in a new lineup announced shortly before introductions.
Reddish is a projected lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft and entered the game averaging 13.6 points and 3.7 rebounds.
It’s the latest in a run of injuries for Duke, including a long stretch at season’s end without Williamson. The adversity, Krzyzewski said, has helped define this team.
“They’ve never backed down; they’ve never been afraid the whole year,” Krzyzewski said. “And we played this amazing schedule. And the spotlight’s on these kids from day one to now. So to have that on them and still respond the way they do, it’s really terrific for these kids.”
The confidence has carried over through a series of close calls. Duke narrowly escaped North Carolina in the ACC tournament, then needed a last-second miss by UCF to advance to the Sweet 16. Friday’s final play was even more astounding given how well Virginia Tech executed the play.
RJ Barrett interjected: “He missed.”
And that about summed it up. There was no real explanation for how the Hokies failed to connect on the final shot, or how Duke has continued to survive in spite of injuries and close calls.
So, perhaps they’re a team of destiny?
“I don’t really believe in that,” Krzyzewski said. “I believe we just play hard until the end.”
Williamson concurred, though he admitted he was more concerned about providing bulletin-board material for Michigan State.
“I can’t say we’re destined to be in the championship because that’ll give somebody else fuel,” Williamson said. “So whoever wants it more, I think that’s who wins.”