Tradition lands Vikings at Duke

augie-vs-duke Men’s basketball set for exhibition at No. 1 Duke

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Augustana men’s head basketball coach Tom Billeter sees similarities between his program and Division I power Duke University.

“We’re a small private school,” he said. “[Other schools] always have more money than us—we have to go out and fundraise our budget … here’s Duke, a small private school in the ACC having to compete every year [like us].”

On Friday, the two schools will meet.

It’s become tradition in the last decade for Duke, one of the legendary programs in men’s college basketball, to host the previous year’s Division II national champion in an exhibition game.

This year, of course, that honor lies with Augustana after the Vikings defeated Lincoln Memorial 90-81 March 26 to capture its first national title.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” Billeter said. “[Duke] does a real nice job with it. It’s a wonderful thing they do for college basketball.”

“There’s not a lot of English players that have come to a university in America and say they played Duke,” said junior point guard Jordan Spencer, who grew up in the United Kingdom. “It really is a dream come true.”

The Vikings aren’t going into Durham, N.C. expecting a win, and they certainly aren’t catching the Blue Devils on a down year.

Duke is ranked No. 1 in both the Associated Press Top-25 and the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Blue Devils are led by the nation’s top recruiting class and have a head coach in Mike Krzyzewski that has won five national titles and three Olympic gold medals.

“I feel blessed to have the opportunity to play against Duke and Coach K at Cameron Indoor [Stadium],” senior forward Zach Huisken said. “I grew up watching Duke hoping one day that I could play there. To think I’ll have the opportunity to is amazing.”

Augustana traveled Thursday, flying first to Denver before backtracking all the way to Durham, as that was the cheapest option, Billeter said. The team then took a tour of the campus and visited the Duke Basketball Museum which neighbors the arena.

“It’s one of those games,” Spencer said, “that you’re going to play a normal game, but in a few year’s time, I’m going to be able to tell my family that I played against potential No. 1 [NBA] draft picks and things like that. It’s going to be good.”

The trip may have a little more fanfare than a road game against Bemidji State, and it’s only an exhibition. But the Vikings still have a game to play, and they have a routine to stick to—one which the team’s freshmen (and one transfer student) are trying to get accustomed to.

“We’re trying to treat it as a normal game,” Billeter said. “As a team we’ll do some fun things but we still have our routine.”

One difference between this game the typical matchup is Augustana didn’t put together a game plan trying to beat Duke. The coaching staff knows winning would be a daunting task. Yes, Augustana beat the University of Iowa in an exhibition last season, and while that was a stellar accomplishment, that Iowa team was not on the level of this Duke squad.

“We prepared for what we need to get better on and really use the game to help us get ready for the next weekend,” Billeter said. “We’re just trying to get better at what we do, and we want to go in and compete and help Duke get better at what they do.”

No matter how normal the staff tries to make it, it’s never going to be just another game.

“This is something they’ll remember all of their lives,” Billeter said.

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