|No. 1 Duke, Georgetown at home in vying for title|
Members of the Duke basketball program like to refer to Madison Square Garden as one of their favorite venues away from home.
When it comes to meaningful basketball locales, the top-ranked Blue Devils will have competition when taking on Georgetown in Friday night's final of the 2K Empire Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project.
The Hoyas (4-1) are coached by Patrick Ewing, whose storied NBA career was based at the Garden with the New York Knicks.
By the end of Georgetown's 82-66 upset of No. 22 Texas in Thursday night's first semifinal, Ewing was pumping up the crowd.
"It felt like it was back in the Knicks days," Ewing said. "I just wanted my team to know that we have a lot of supporters here. There's a lot of Georgetown alumni here and also at the game. I wanted them to stand up and be heard."
That was before Duke put an 87-52 whipping on previously undefeated California in the nightcap to set up the championship game matchup.
Duke (5-0) will be in its third game in Madison Square Garden this season after opening the schedule earlier this month by defeating Kansas at the neutral site.
"It's an honor, the very first thing," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of competing at MSG. "I'm not going to shortchange our arena, Cameron (Indoor Stadium), but this is the one I love to play in after Cameron."
The Blue Devils have 37 victories all-time at MSG, marking the sixth-highest total for the program at any site.
Even though MSG is home to Georgetown's Big East Conference rival St. John's, Ewing said he has great affection for the venue.
"This is still my home," he said. "I still have a lot of fans here."
That could make for a raucous atmosphere for the tournament final as Duke typically draws lots of support in New York.
Duke freshmen were unfazed by the glamour of the famous arena. All three players who reached double-digit point totals against California are first-year players, led by center Vernon Carey Jr.'s 31-point, 12-rebound performance. He achieved those numbers without adding to them across the final 10 minutes.
Duke's offense featured seven players with at least one 3-point basket against California.
"I like my group. I like how hard they're playing, and they like each other, too," Krzyzewski said.
Duke holds a 217-34 record under Krzyzewski when playing with a No. 1 ranking. The win total matches the 217 games won by legendary UCLA coach John Wooden when his team was atop the rankings.
Duke was in such control in the 87-52 romp past California that its starters could rest for a good chunk down the stretch of the game.
While one of Duke's biggest players was the most productive Thursday night, it was 6-foot-2 guard Mac McClung who led Georgetown in scoring with 19 points in the Texas game.
Duke will be going for its 100th victory in an in-season tournament under Krzyzewski, whose teams hold a 99-18 mark in such games. The Blue Devils own 19 titles in in-season tournaments under Krzyzewski's direction.
Duke leads Georgetown 8-7 in the all-time series, though the teams haven't met since November 2015.
--Field Level Media