Wendell Moore Jr. was not having it. None of it. With under 12 minutes remaining between Duke and Gonzaga, a few botched Blue Devil possessions swung what had been a five-point lead three minutes earlier into a three-point deficit. The unraveling, not coincidently, coincided with Duke mega-star Paolo Banchero hobbling off the court, his quads spasming and cramping. As the Blue Devils surrendered a lead he helped build with 20 first-half points, Banchero sat in the locker room yelling at a television. An IV was hooked to him, replenishing his fluids. The whole evening felt like it might be slipping away.

That’s when Moore raised his voice. The Duke captain took over a team huddle at the under-12 media timeout. Mike Krzyzewski and all of his 1,176 career wins were not needed. Moore railed away, telling his teammates to be stronger with the ball, to stop allowing layups, to dial things up, to stop turning the damn ball over.

“I guess, in PG words, it was to pick it up,” Moore recounted later.

“He was saying the things I should’ve been saying,” Krzyzewski said. “But when it comes from a player, it’s better, especially in that moment. That was a critical moment. I’ve been in a lot of games, and we could’ve been knocked out right there. But what that kid did at that timeout was big-time. Really big-time.”

Duke looked unbeatable on Friday night in Las Vegas, beating Gonzaga 84-81, and was so with two very different versions of itself, a fact that should strike fear across the college basketball landscape. In the first half, it was Banchero looking like the best player in the game and a potentially iconic Duke player of the Krzyzewski era. In the second half, though, when it came to winning time, it was everyone else.

It was Moore, demanding everyone be better and doing his part by scoring 16 points after the break, including 7 of 8 from the stripe. It was Mark Williams, making play after play after play — blocking shots, altering shots, rebounding, running, dunking. It was Jeremy Roach, having the guts to go one-on-one against Zags guard Rasir Bolton on the biggest possession of the night, faking right and driving left, tucking the ball like a running back as he strode through the lane, and flipping a layup off the glass to give Duke a three-point lead with 41.2 seconds remaining. It was Trevor Keels, grinding through some offensive woes, but playing all 20 second-half minutes, delivering lock-down defense and drawing six fouls. It was Theo John, an old vet, stepping in while Banchero writhed in the locker room and giving the Devils two huge buckets. It was Joey Baker, hitting two 3s, including a bank.

Add it up and Duke left Vegas with a resounding statement on Friday. In the best game of college basketball’s nascent 2021-22 season, Krzyzewski’s team posted a win that establishes the Blue Devils as a clear-cut national title contender.

Duke’s season-opening win over Kentucky was nice.

But this was something different.

On this same court that, three days earlier, top-ranked Gonzaga led No. 2 UCLA 24-8 before some fans arrived to their seats, Duke jumped on Gonzaga early, building a 27-18 lead and turning the building into Cameron Indoor West. That lead came upon Banchero’s broad shoulders. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound smokestack did whatever he wanted. He scored on every defender Gonzaga put in front of him, whether it was Drew Timme, Chet Holmgren or Anton Watson. He made shots on the move. He drove to the basket, not necessarily going around opposing defenders, but going through them. Banchero has a penchant for creating space off the dribble with little thrusts into his defender’s chest. He puts you on your heels and doesn’t stop till you’re on your ass.