But the Cameron cavalcade of conquests rolls onward, into its 15th year. The next longest such streak in the nation belongs to Minnesota.
So it’s a big deal, right? Well ...
“Really, we are pursuing excellence every day,” Mike Krzyzewski said via email. “That pursuit is more important to us than any kind of winning streak we might be fortunate to be part of.’’
There might as well be a sign in the visitors’ locker room of Cameron Indoor Stadium that reads, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’’ The reasons why are numerous. Duke is always good. The arena is always loud. The opposition is not always rigorous.
The streak to date has involved 69 different non-conference teams, with plenty of Presbyterians and Tennessee-Martins and North Carolina-(insert regional campus here) on the list.
But they have also hosted the likes of Michigan State, Indiana, Georgetown, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Eight of the opponents have been ranked. Davidson has been the guest of choice -- eight times.
Only 15 of the 114 wins have been decided by single digits. The closest calls were one-pointers against Belmont in 2012 and Vermont last season, that required a Rodney Hood free throw with five seconds left.
“With any long winning streak, you need to be good as well as fortunate. We have been both during this streak,” Krzyzewski said. “Playing in front of the 'Cameron Crazies' gives our team a lift. It can also knock an opponent back at times. There are so many factors that go into any streak.”
However maintained, it is a remarkable run. To find the proper respect for it, look to the last guest to get out of Cameron unscathed. Mike Jarvis was coaching St. John’s on Feb. 26, 2000, when Duke fell in Cameron 83-82.
“We had some huge wins, winning the Big East, winning the NIT championship and cutting down the nets,” Jarvis said on the phone from his home in Florida. “Honestly, that day was probably just as special.
“When somebody asks me about some of the most significant accomplishments of my life, I point to that game.”
He recalls it as a rather warm weekend in Durham, North Carolina. His St. John’s team had come to town with a 19-6 record, finishing an eight-day stretch that also included wins against Connecticut and Syracuse. Sports Illustrated had called it ‘Hell Week’. Duke was No. 2 with a 22-3 record and a roster full of stars like Carlos Boozer, Jay Williams and Shane Battier.
Besides all that, St. John’s guard Erick Barkley had gone through a well-publicized conflict with the NCAA, and Jarvis feared that would make him a prime target for the blue-faced hecklers who dwelled in the Cameron student section.
“The students the night before were all revved up and ready to go, and particularly ready to go after Erick,” Jarvis said. “I know coach Krzyzewski talked to his students and said, ‘I really want you guys not to go after this kid like you normally would. He has enough things going on.’”
It was a tremendous game. All 10 starters scored in double figures. There were three lead changes in the final 68 seconds, the last one on an 18-foot jumper by St. John’s’ Bootsy Thornton with 13 seconds left. That gave him 22 points to go with 11 rebounds and six assists. The year before, he had scored 40 on the Blue Devils. Perhaps in the 114 games since, no one has been able to find a similar Duke-killer.
Kryzezwski set up a final play but the Blue Devils missed. Thornton called the last possession “the longest five seconds of my life.” The defeat remains only the third Duke non-conference home loss since the early days of the Krzyzewskian Empire in 1983.Jarvis remembers celebrating on the floor, and having a grown man rush out of the small St. John’s section and kiss him on the cheek. He remembers his gratitude toward Krzyzewski for protecting Barkley, who had 14 points and eight assists.
“What he did that night was so classy. His concern for kids, whether they’re on his team or another team, is real. I think it helped us. If he had known it was going to help us that much, he might not have done it. Mike likes to win.”
And Jarvis remembers the sense of accomplishment, which has only been made deeper by 15 years of everyone else’s futility in Cameron.
“Even if it was just for that year, we knew we did something special. There are victories that you know if somebody is reading your obituary -- hopefully, it won’t be for a long time -- they’ll mention that. It was that kind of win.”
St. John's and Duke are no strangers to one another. The teams have met 22 times since 1938 including another 12 meetings since the game on Feb. 26, 2000. Three of those games have come in the NCAA tournament. Duke leads the all-time series 17-5, winning 10 of the 12 games since 2000. There is another game scheduled between the two at Madison Square Garden for Jan. 25, 2015.
Jarvis, who had most recently coached at Florida Atlantic, has never watched a tape of the game in its entirety.
“I don’t pull out tapes of games already gone by, but you know what? I might have to do that. I’m sure I’ve got it somewhere in my garage. I’d like to watch to the broadcast of it and just listen to how the conversation went. Most of the time when they think a certain team is going to win, that’s the only team they talk about. It would be very interesting to see how the dialogue went by the announcers for that game.”
The Blue Devils put their streak on the line once again when they host Toledo on Dec. 29. But overall, what does Jarvis think of the streak?
“We were good enough to beat them, but we had to play great to beat them. Somebody’s probably going to go in there some night and be very lucky.”
“I hope it goes on forever.”