Coach K had a blunt, but perfect message for his team during a timeout that sparked a 23-point comeback

The Blue Devils capped their largest comeback in 69 years after Coach K delivered some harsh words to his team.
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The Blue Devils capped their largest comeback in 69 years after Coach K delivered some harsh words to his team.
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Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

  • The No. 2 Duke Blue Devils overcame a 23-point second-half deficit against the No. 16 Louisville Cardinals Tuesday night.
  • The Blue Devils trailed 59-36 with 9:58 remaining in the game but surged back and took the lead with just 14 seconds to go, marking the program’s largest comeback in 69 years.
  • When asked what head coach Mike Krzyzewski told the team to spark the historic comeback, freshman phenom Zion Williamson told ESPN “he said he don’t coach losers.”

With 10 minutes remaining in their Tuesday-night matchup, the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils trailed the 16th-ranked Louisville Cardinals by 23 points, their largest deficit of the season.

But Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski refused to let the young Blue Devils hang their heads, prompting the largest comeback win in the Hall of Fame coach’s tenure with the program.

When asked what Coach K said in the huddle to spark the comeback, freshman phenom Zion Williamson admitted the 72-year-old didn’t hold back.

“He said he don’t coach losers,” Williamson told ESPN after the game. “[He] only coach winners. He said to go out there and play hard, and he could coach us to a win.”

Krzyzewski elaborated on what he told Williamson and the team in his press conference later that evening:

“I told my team, I said ‘You’re not losers, but you’re playing like losers,'” Krzyzewski said. “February is a crazy month, because it’s a long haul before March, and everybody is hungry. They’re trying to make their marks. These kids can already feel like they’ve made a mark. And so, you’re playing against somebody that can be hungrier than you, and our thing going into the game was ‘Play harder than them,’ and we weren’t able to do that. So, that’s a lesson for our guys.”

Those comments helped Duke flip a switch midway through the second half of the game. Powered by Cam Reddish’s 16 second-half points, the Blue Devils enjoyed a 30-5 run over a six-minute span to cut the Cardinals’ lead to two with 3:01 to play.

R.J. Barrett delivered a no-look, between-the-legs pass to Reddish, who rose up from well beyond the arc to drain the game-tying three.

A minute later, Louisville’s Ryan McMahon was whistled for the block on a Reddish drive, and the Haverford, Pennsylvania, native knocked down both free throws to give Duke its first lead since midway through the first half and cap the comeback victory.

“We were very fortunate,” Krzyzewski said. “That was a great win for us, that their team played us for 30 minutes, not just outplayed, they outcompeted us. I commend them. They probably were more deserving of winning. But, in the last 10 minutes, we were spectacular.”