EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The last two times Duke beat Butler, Mike Krzyzewski moved into a tie with one of college basketball's legendary names.
Last April, the Blue Devils' 61-59 victory in one of the best NCAA championship games ever gave Coach K four national titles, the same as Adolph Rupp managed at Kentucky.
On Saturday, No. 1 Duke beat Butler 82-70, Krzyzewski's 876th win in his 36th season, the same as "The Baron" had in 41 seasons with the Wildcats.
"I'm going to win more I think than Coach Rupp, God bless him, who won't win any more," Krzyzewski said of the late coach. "He won a lot of them and he won them in his way and they didn't play as many games then. Each era has outstanding achievements by individuals, whether they be players or coaches and in this era I've been fortunate to have some.
"It's tough to compare," Krzyzewski said. "I much rather would have tied him in April than today because I'm going to keep coaching and we should win more games. You get too caught up with what your own team is doing to focus on that kind of stuff."
They compliment each other after a game just as nicely as they complement each other during the game.
"Nolan did a tremendous job tonight. He played like a veteran," Irving said. "He put us on his back in the second half of this game."
Smith said: "Kyrie brings a lot. He's a dangerous point guard."
The duo came into the game averaging a combined 33.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 11.2 assists.
On Saturday, the combined line read 45 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, and that helped offset a foul-plagued 13 points for forward Kyle Singler.
"They have, arguably, three of — if not the three best — players in the country in their starting lineup," Butler coach Brad Stevens said of Smith, Singler and Irving.
This was a neutral-site game at the Izod Center, a building where Duke is 19-1 under Krzyzewski, winning the last 12 in a row.
It also ended a tough two-week stretch for Duke, a run that included wins over top 10 teams Kansas State and Michigan State as well as a trip to Oregon so Singler could play a game near his home and against little brother E.J., who starts for the Ducks.
"That's as tough a two weeks as any team in the country has played and we scheduled it that way," Krzyzewski said. "You can't practice that. You can't practice the amount of energy you need to have. You can't practice being on the road. You can't practice playing against championship-level teams. I'm proud of our guys because they came through it."
This is the 16th time under Krzyzewski that Duke has started a season 8-0, while Butler is 0-3 against top-ranked teams, with the last meeting against DePaul in 1980.
Shawn Vanzant had 14 points for the Bulldogs (4-3), and his 12-point second half was what kept them close until Duke pulled away in the final minutes. The Blue Devils had not trailed in the final 30 minutes of a game this season.
Butler led 44-42 when Duke went on a 12-0 run, capped by a dunk by Mason Plumlee off an alley-oop pass from Andre Dawkins with 10:47 to play.
The Bulldogs had one more answer, going on a 13-6 run — during which Vanzant had 10 straight points for Butler — to make it 60-57 with 7:23 left. The run was even more impressive because it was without starting guard Shelvin Mack, who left with leg cramps with 13 minutes to play and did not return.
"Honestly, I wasn't thinking about that," Vanzant said of Mack, who had 11 points and five assists. "I was trying to do my job and honestly I didn't play that well today. I missed a couple of assignments I wish I could take back."
Irving, playing in his native New Jersey, hit 3-pointers on Duke's next two possessions to give the Blue Devils a 66-57 lead with 6:29 to go. Butler got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
"I definitely was pressing in the first half a little bit," Irving said. "I picked up those two quick charges. That was a mistake on my part, being too aggressive, not playing smart."
Krzyzewski's smile gets wide every time he talks about Irving.
"He's a really good player and a beautiful kid," Krzyzewski said. "Those two 3s he hit came when he read that the man went under the ball screen, that's his read. They kept us three 2-point possessions ahead of them."