The Subs: Looking Back at Some Great Performances

Filling Kenny Dennard’s Giant Shoes


Jim Suddath

On November 17, 1979, number  two ranked Kentucky clashed with number three Duke in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic in Springfield. It was the first game of the season for both teams.  As some expected, the game turned into a titanic duel between Blue Devil senior center, Mike Gminski,  with 21 points, 14 rebounds and Kentucky freshman, Sam Bowie, with 22 points and 17 rebounds.  Duke star Kenny Dennard unexplainably fouled out  only ten minutes into the contest and Coach Foster called on Jim Suddath. Suddath demonstrated how talented even Duke subs are, when he came through with 11 key points, 4 rebounds, 5 steals, 2 assists, and 1 block. Duke also got 17 points from junior, Gene Banks; and sophomore swing-man Vince Taylor, a Lexington native, matched Kentucky All-American Kyle Macy with 14 points.

Duke led most of the way before a late Kentucky rally. Duke then dominated the first overtime in the history of the series, winning 82-76 to open the season. Obviously, if Suddath had not stepped in with a whole array of positive contributions, a 6-point Duke win could easily have become a season-starting Duke loss.

Evading an Embarrassing Blow-out

Early in the second half of a game with Clemson on March, 4, 1992, Duke was getting blown out 66-51.  The Blue Devil starters played in silent desperation, which only fueled more errors.   Then Thomas Hill threw an errant pass to Antonio Lang, who barely tried to snag it.

Coach K went ballistic. More than fed up, he suddenly sent in his underclassmen: Cherokee Parks, Eric Meek, Christian Ast, Kenny Blakeney, and Marty Clark. Clemson scored four more points, before Eric Meek, a large-body who had not scored in Duke’s past five games, scored three straight buckets in the post. That gave Parks an opening for a three-pointer.

The second unit had humiliated the starters and the first team came back into the game with a dangerous look on their faces. Duke took the lead with 7:25 left in regulation, capping a 27-7 run. Duke won the game with a Laettner 3-pointer and a couple of free throws in the final seconds.  But Meek and Parks triggered the comeback.

When Practice Pays Off

It was April 4, 1992 and Duke was coming off the unforgettable win over Kentucky. Indiana viewed their objective as shutting down Laettner and Hurley.  Laettner, the hero of the Kentucky game was almost suffocated and had a bit of a letdown in this game. Other players had to step up. Duke had a rough first half and with about 2:00 minutes in the first, the Blue Devils were losing by 12 points.

In the second half, Duke made a nice run and took the lead. In fact, at the 9:40 mark in the second half, Duke was actually leading 60-47. It looked as if Duke would coast to a win. Then Indiana began getting hot. In a little over a minute an Indiana star hit three 3-pointers in a row. Then they began fouling Duke. When Brian Davis hurt his knee and Grant Hill fouled out, Coach K gave Marty Clark a hard stare and asked if he was ready. Clark could only nod numbly.

Soon after Clark entered the game, he was fouled with only 1:27 on the clock. Surely Coach Knight had encouraged fouls on Clark, the sub—the player who’d only played about 200 minutes in his entire Duke career.

But Marty stepped up to the line and didn’t even hesitate. He hit both his free throws. Though Duke scored, Indiana was now closing the gap. Duke only led by a few when Clark was fouled again with 35 seconds on the clock. Again he coolly went to the line and sank them both. Knight probably figured this greenhorn was going to suddenly grasp the significance of the moment and Indiana fouled him again at 29 seconds. This time he scored the first and finally missed the second. Duke held on to win that game 81-78, and Clark deserved his share of the credit. A sportscaster mentioned that he’d  witnessed Clark often remaining in a silent gym shooting free throws after practice. Well, it paid off.

‘Uncle Matt’s’ Crucial Three Points

Matt Christensen graduated from Duke about seven years after he entered as a freshman. Beginning in 1995, the six-foot-10 center played sparingly because of injuries. Then he left Duke and spent two years in Germany on a Mormon mission. When he returned he was rusty, so he red-shirted in 1999. Chris Collins and Wojo, with whom he played when he started at Duke, were now Blue Devil coaches, and he was now known as ‘Uncle Matt.’  In the December 18, 2001 Jimmy V Classic game against Kentucky, the score seesawed. Early in the second half, when the starters weren’t going all out, Coach K sent in the subs, which included Christensen. In less than five minutes, Matt blocked a shot and converted a 3-point play. You could say Duke ended up winning by those three points, 95-92, in overtime.

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