Washington (4-4) played scared at first, then rallied to make Duke work late; 86-80 loss also saw N’Diaye leave with sprained knee.
The Washington Huskies are definitely off-Broadway. But not as far off as some might have assumed.
Two games in a week in New York City resulted in two expected losses, the latest 86-80 to seventh-ranked Duke Saturday at Madison Square Garden, where Tuesday they lost to No. 11 Marquette 79-77.
The Blue Devils led wire-to-wire and by as many as 19 points. But the Huskies, behind freshman Tony Wroten’s career-high 23 points, scratched back in the second half to make legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski sweat just a little.
The bigger loss may well have been Aziz N’Diaye, who sprained his right knee in the second half and was helped off the court after landing awkwardly following a dunk. The seven-foot junior center is the the team’s only big man, and primary defensive force.
Coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game that the extent of the injury won’t be known until after an MRI exam Monday. The injury followed news Friday that senior 6-6 guard Scott Suggs, who was expected to be a starter, would not return this season following surgery for a toe fracture. He will seek a medical redshirt year.
Facing a legendary team on a national TV on the big stage in the Big Apple attended by 15,525, the young Huskies were clearly overwhelmed in the early going.
“We came out like we never played basketball before,” said C.J. Wilcox, the sophomore guard who had 22 points and helped lead the second half rally. “We saw the Duke jerseys and played intimidated.”
Beset by turnovers and poor shooting, Washington fell behind 34-15 to a Duke team not playing all that well, either. The Huskies were down 49-30 early in the second half before Wroten, Wilcox and Terrence Ross, who missed his first seven shots of the first half, decided to quit playing scared.
During a stretch in the final 10 minutes, Wroten, who scored 13 points and had six rebounds against Marquette, ran off 10 consecutive points to help thwart the potential runaway. Duke (9-1) had eased up, but had to return some starters to the lineup when Washington closed to single-digit deficits in the game’s final five minutes.
“We realized (in the second half) they are good, but (earlier) we thought they were invincible,” Wilcox said. “Tony was really aggressive, got his shots, and kinda got us rolling.”
The final score was as close as Washington came, and that was on a three-pointer at the buzzer by Abdul Gaddy, who recovered from sluggish first half.
Austin Rivers, son of NBA star and coach Doc Rivers, led Duke with 18 points. Ross hit six of nine shots in the second half and finished with 16.
The loss, Washington’s third in a row, following defeats at Marquette and Nevada earlier in the road trip, made the Pac-12 0-10 this season against Top 10 teams.
The Huskies (4-4) return home Friday, for the first time since Nov. 25, to play Cal-Santa Barbara (4-2).
“We’ve seen the best team we’re going to see,” Wilcox said. “With the injuries, it’s gonna be tough. Younger guys are going to have to step up.”