Paolo Banchero vs. Chet Holmgren. Duke vs. Gonzaga. Either way you slice it, the game of the season in college basketball lived up to its billing.
The freshman phenom Banchero, in line to be perhaps the No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA Draft, scored 21 points en route to No. 5 Duke (7-0) defeating No. 1 Gonzaga (6-1) 84-81 in the Continental Tire Challenge in Las Vegas. Playing in front of 20,389, the largest crowd ever for a basketball game in Nevada, the two college basketball heavyweights went back and forth. In the end, the Bulldogs’ 36-game regular season winning streak came to an end.
“It’s just a really big-time game, what a great crowd,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We thought it might be a showcase game and it was. But having this type of crowd was amazing. Obviously, we feel great about the win, and we think we beat an outstanding basketball team.”
As Gonzaga junior forward Drew Timme put it, this one felt like something bigger.
“It felt like a Final Four-type game,” Timme said. “The atmosphere was great and it was two Goliaths going at it.”
Banchero led the way for the Blue Devils, scoring 21 points on 8-17 shooting with five rebounds and two assists. He only scored one point in the second half, hampered by cramps that caused him to leave the game to get an IV. Banchero returned with eight minutes to play but wasn’t nearly as effective.
His teammates needed to step up and they did. Duke junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. scored 20 points with six rebounds and six assists. Sophomore center Mark Williams scored 17 points on an efficient 8-of-9 from the field. Moore Jr. was especially key, knocking down six free throws in the last 4:35 of the game. A 13-9 run for the Blue Devils closed it out.
Gonzaga, meanwhile, turned the rock over 17 times. Holmgren, the 7-foot-0, 195-pound freshman center, kept up his strong start to his college career, scoring 16 points with seven rebounds. However, it was sophomore guard Julian Strawther who showed out for the Bulldogs.
Strawther had a career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. He was especially sharp in the second half, shooting 57.1% from the floor.
“The beautiful thing is we all believe in each other,” Strawther said. “Even if I miss a couple of shots, they’re going to keep looking for me. That’s what really keeps me going. They showed a lot of belief in me after I missed a few.”
In what may be a prelude to what comes down the line, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few was very complimentary of the five-time National Champions.
“We’ve always asked over the years before we’ve had to make decisions on anything — how we travel, how we operate, how we schedule, facility-wise — the first question always is, ‘What’s Duke doing?'” Few said. “I don’t think I can pay any higher respect than that.”
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