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The last time Michigan State played Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was on Dec. 1, 2010 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. As the Spartans approached the arena, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told his players to greet the students camped out in Krzyzewskiville.
He wanted his players to soak up the atmosphere of a special place in college basketball.
Now it’s a decade later and Duke’s players are eager to visit Michigan State’s Breslin Center when the teams meet on Tuesday in East Lansing. This time, it’s Duke’s players eager to soak up an environment they’ve only seen on TV.
“It’s going to be a great a environment, a challenging environment,” said senior Jack White, a team captain, at the ACC media day. “I’m excited. We’re looking forward to it. I can’t wait to get going.”
Izzo, now in his 25th season, enjoying hearing Duke’s players hold his school’s arena in prestige. He has often said he wants to lift Michigan State’s program — one of four with Duke, Kansas and Kentucky that annually play in the Champions Classic — as high as possible.
What better compliment than to hear a Duke player eager to visit his program’s arena. After all, Cameron Indoor Stadium is the Notre Dame Cathedral of basketball cathedrals.
“I think that’s great,” Izzo said after his team finished fifth on Wednesday in the Maui Invitational. “I think it’s one of the great things in sports is you get to go to venues. They’re 20, and I’m 60 and I still enjoying doing that.”
Some of the shine was taken off the Duke-Michigan State game when both teams suffered upset losses in the past week. Otherwise, there was a scenario to consider a game for the No. 1 national ranking.
Michigan State (5-2) entered the week ranked No. 3 before it lost to Virginia Tech on Monday in the opening round of the Maui tournament. Duke (6-1) was No. 1 until it was shocked at home on Tuesday by Stephen F. Austin.
Duke’s loss at home ended a 150-game winning streak against non-conference opponents at Cameron dating to Feb. 26, 2000 when the Blue Devils fell to St. John’s.
“You’re seeing upsets all over the country,” Izzo said. “It’s because teams are playing tougher competition. A lot of the teams — the Daytons of the world — are really good teams.”
Unranked Dayton took No. 4 Kansas to overtime in the final of the Maui tournament before falling 90-84.
Duke plays one more game against Winthrop (4-3) Friday night at home before traveling to Michigan State. The Big South school from Rock Hill, S.C., has suffered its losses to Fresno State, East Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech.
“We’ve got to be hungrier,” said freshman guard Cassius Stanley after the game. “We’ve got to want it more. (Stephen F. Austin) got confident and a team with confidence is tough to beat. That was on us.”
Duke missed out on bowl eligibility with chance for a sixth win when the Blue Devils dropped to 4-7 with last week’s loss at Wake Forest.
The regular-season finale is senior night against Miami (6-5) Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium. There are 22 seniors to be honored.
“I’m very proud of these seniors because the fight on that practice field, their energy, their willingness to believe and to continue to work, has been outstanding,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. It will serve them well. I’m looking forward to celebrating all of those guys.”
Tom Shanahan is a freelance writer based in Cary and author of “Raye of Light,” a book featuring Fayetteville’s Jimmy Raye as a pioneering black quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty on Michigan State’s Underground Railroad football teams of the 1960s.