I was a freshman from New Hampshire, and there I am playing in the Carrier Dome, packed, in the Sweet 16 against the No. 1 team in the NCAA tournament and pulling off the upset. It almost didn’t feel real.
Coach Pete Gillen, Providence
In 1997, en route to the Elite Eight, No. 10 seed Providence upset No. 2 seed Duke 98-87 in the second round. Now an analyst for CBS Sports Network, Gillen presided over a talented squad that featured Derrick Brown (33 points) and future pros Austin Croshere (21 points) and God Shammgod (12 points).
We had to attack. We had to be aggressive, because they were very aggressive. Steve Wojciechowski, their point guard, who’s an assistant [coach] with Duke now, first play of the game, he bumped into [Shammgod], kind of chest bumped him a little bit. [Shammgod] looked at him. He didn’t back down. He’s a tough kid from New York City. Wojciechowski was a tremendous college player, but Shammgod responded well. We just had to be aggressive.
We had a very talented team. We had God Shammgod, and when you’re coaching God, it’s tough to lose. God Shammgod was our point guard, and Austin Croshere, who was a lottery pick, was our great forward, 6-foot-9, a skilled four-man. We had athletic wings, a guy, 6-foot-5, Jamel Thomas, he was very, very good. Derrick Brown was the other wing. Derrick Brown was just the Terminator. He didn’t care. He was going to get his points, his rebounds, no matter what. He was just tough as nails. He was just too quick for Trajan Langdon or whoever they had on him.
We wanted to attack them. We were a little more athletic than them. They were a great team, eighth in the country coming in, so I remember that. Honestly, we were just a little more talented team that year. We certainly respected Duke, they had a great team, but we felt that we could beat them if we bring our “A” game.
[The fans] were pro-Duke to start, because they had a big Duke contingent. We had, you know, a couple guys on a business trip who came down from Providence. I’m just kidding. We had a few fans there. Providence has a great tradition. They love their basketball at Providence. Once we showed that we could compete, a lot of the fans who were Duke alums or whatever, they jumped on our side, because we were a big underdog in that game. They were kind of stunned that Providence, that finished sixth in the Big East that year, could play with a great Duke team. We were blessed with a lot of talent. It wasn’t coaching. We had good players. They weren’t afraid.
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
In 2009, No. 3 seed Villanova destroyed No. 2 seed Duke 77-54 in the Sweet 16. Junior guard Scottie Reynolds scored a game-high 16 points and helped stymie the Blue Devils, who shot a paltry 26.7 percent from the field.
For us, it wasn’t really a blowout. You know, we had great respect for Duke. Not just for that year, but as a program. We had to continue to play hard the whole 40 minutes because we’d seen on film—and through the years—that if you let up for two minutes, they can come right back into the game.
You don’t fear anybody, but you respect everybody. And I think with Duke, you respect them a ton. I knew Gerald Henderson, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler. I knew what type of players they were. But when we went in there and played them, it was kind of like, we had so much respect for them, it wasn’t like a fear thing, but it was like, If we don’t come in and play a good, solid basketball game we could get embarrassed. We just had total focus.
I knew Nolan, I knew Gerald, I knew Kyle, so you hear those three names, you just try to make it hard on them. But you think they’re going to get a certain number [of points]. The way we just came out and played defense—we held Gerald to something low [seven points on 1 for 14 from the field]. We felt really good at halftime, and in the second half we knew they were going to make a run. When Greg Paulus came in, he kind of turned the game a little bit, because he put a lot of pressure on us offensively and defensively. We had to regroup and buckle down again.
I think defensively—and if you hear the remarks from Coach K at his press conference—I think that was one of the best defensive games we played, considering the talent that they had. I know we hadn’t had a defensive game like that against three NBA-talented players.
I remember one play where [Duke guard] Elliot Williams came down, and he dunked it with his left hand, and-one—and I think he was a freshman at that time—and I was like, Oh. How many more of these guys do they have on their bench? I can see why they have a lot of firepower, and I don’t know if a lot of teams have that. When they substitute their starting five out, you know, their second five would probably start for anybody else in the country.