DURHAM, N.C. – During his senior season of 2006, Duke guard J.J. Redick made history by becoming the ACC’s all-time leading scorer. The record he broke, held by former Wake Forest star Dickie Hemric, had stood for over 50 years. UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough was a freshman when Redick set the new standard; he’s now a senior who projects to top Redick’s 2,769 career points by the end of this year — another reminder that records don’t last forever.
But the Blue Devils’ program holds one ACC record that will be exceedingly difficult to erase from the books. From 1998 through 2001, Duke won 24 consecutive ACC road games. After being whipped in Chapel Hill in February of 1998, Duke didn’t lose on an ACC rival’s court again until Valentine’s Day of 2001 at Virginia, the next-to-last defeat of that NCAA championship season.
During that four-year period, Duke won the ACC regular season each time with an overall mark of 59-5. The Devils actually lost more ACC games at home than on the road during the stretch, going 29-3 at Cameron and 30-2 away from the friendly confines.
In the long, storied history of ACC basketball, no other program has come close to that string of success in road games. In fact, the second longest ACC road winning streak also belongs to Duke — a 14-game run under Vic Bubas in the 1960s.
Needless to say, road wins in the ACC are precious and tend to influence the outcome of the conference championship race. Duke under coach Mike Krzyzewski has excelled on the road for over 20 years, one of the least publicized aspects of his Hall of Fame career. Since 1998, his Blue Devils have won 90 ACC road games, posting a winning percentage of .769 away from Cameron in conference games. Even during the past two seasons, which routinely are painted as down years, Duke went 10-6 on the road in the ACC.
Some critics like to razz Duke for not playing many major road games against other elite programs during November and December, a time of year when the Blue Devils usually enter some major tournament, play some traditional rivals and participate in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. But to be honest, the Devils don’t need many more road tests to toughen them up for postseason play. The eight ACC away games Duke faces each year are played in environments as difficult as any in the country. When the Blue Devils come to town, every one of those eight arenas is at fever pitch in hopes of upsetting one of college basketball’s premier names — no matter what kind of team Duke actually brings to town.
Consider just one example. Florida State is trying to build a championship contender under coach Leonard Hamilton, as the Seminoles have not been to the NCAA Tournament in a decade. They don’t enjoy many sellouts at the Tucker Center in downtown Tallahassee, but the coliseum is always packed to capacity for the Duke game. The atmosphere no doubt has contributed to FSU pulling off a few upsets over nationally-ranked Duke teams in recent years. Overall the Blue Devils are 12-5 on FSU’s court since the ‘Noles joined the ACC, but wins in 2002, 2003 and 2006 fuel an expectation that every game there with Duke could be another high point for the home team. So it’s never an easy win, no matter how the results are analyzed afterward.
Duke’s 2009 team took a major step by opening its ACC road campaign with a gritty 66-58 victory at Florida State and following it up with a 70-56 win at Georgia Tech. Both were tough games against bigger teams with plenty of incentive. But Duke prevailed in both hostile environments, successes that could definitely play a role in this year’s ACC race. The next two ACC road tests should be even more demanding — Jan. 28 at Wake Forest and Feb. 4 at Clemson. Wake has beaten Duke on four of the Blue Devils’ last five visits to Lawrence Joel Coliseum, while Clemson just ended a brutal 22-game losing streak to the Devils at the 2008 ACC Tournament.
Krzyzewski normally has his troops in a focused, intense mood for their league road games and they have been rewarded with victory more often than not. In fact, that .769 ACC road winning percentage for Duke since 1998 is significantly higher than the league’s HOME winning percentage in conference games during the same period (.637). That’s the kind of excellence that leads to championship results — and should be more appreciated by the fandom, never taken for granted.