NEW YORK – It was not a pristine occasion. Duke struggled early to find its offensive touch and was uncommonly sloppy with the basketball. There were nearly as many technical fouls called against Plumlees as there are Plumlees on the Blue Devils roster. Even a coach as demanding as Mike Krzyzewski could not have expected victory No. 903 to be perfect, though. The timing was all wrong for that.

No, perfect would have required this particular piece of business being transacted last April. Had Duke won three more games in the 2010-11 season, the victory that broke the NCAA record for Division I coaching wins – the record held by Krzyzewski’s own college coach, Bob Knight – would have delivered Krzyzewski his fifth national championship. It didn’t turn out that way.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski becomes the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history with a win at Madison Square Garden. He now has 903 victories.

So instead it came in the Champions Classic in a 74-69 escape of Michigan State on Tuesday night in November, the two teams having practiced only a few weeks in advance and thus hardly fit to stage a classic. The game was played in Madison Square Garden, so at least it had a grand stage if not the grandest. And the event had an audience to match.

Knight was there courtside at Madison Square Garden calling the game for ESPN. Spike Lee, having nothing else to do, as we know all too well, made the scene. Lots of Krzyzewski’s former Blue Devils were in the audience: Elton Brand, Jason Williams, Grant Hill, Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier, Bobby Hurley.

And NCAA president Mark Emmert, maybe desperate to bask in a little good publicity given all that has transpired in college athletics during this calendar year, indeed during the past week, sat in the third row opposite the Duke bench.

It looked for a while like they were going to see a terrific basketball game, with the Spartans trailing by only a point at the break.

It took a little coaching maneuver to shift the game in Duke’s direction. Krzyzewski gave struggling star freshman Austin Rivers a bit of a break and sent feisty sophomore Tyler Thornton in his place. And the coach made a deeper investment in junior forward Ryan Kelly, a more advanced offensive player than either of the Plumlees.

Kelly delivered nine points in the first dozen minutes of the second half to give him 14 for the game. Thornton keyed a defensive surge that limited MSU to less than a point a minute over that same period as Duke opened a 19-point lead.

The Spartans had looked so promising in battling No. 1 North Carolina on the USS Carl Vinson last Friday and even more so in the first 20 minutes of this one, but they struggled to defend the Blue Devils’ frequent drives without fouling and did poorly guarding Duke shooter Andre Dawkins on dribble handoffs.

Dawkins hit six 3-pointers and scored 26 points for the Blue Devils. Point guard Seth Curry contributed 20 points and a couple of threes.

Krzyzewski brought his typical quiet dignity to the evening, entering the arena about 3 minutes before tip-off and soon aftereward making the effort to walk to Michigan State’s bench to greet coach Tom Izzo, rather than play the part of the king and wait for Izzo to come to him.

Although the crowd included many Kentucky fans and a few supporting Kansas – their teams played in the second game of the Champions doubleheader – Krzyzewski was greeted by an emphatic round of applause when introduced.

He has not always been embraced by opposing fans, particularly those from ACC rivals who’ve occasionally griped about Duke’s apparent good fortune in dealing with game officials, or in particular about the Blue Devils’ established art of drawing charges near to the rim.

The breadth of his accomplishments as a basketball coach – 11 Final Fours, four NCAA championships, an Olympic gold medal, enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame – dwarfed those picayune matters on this evening.

This was a chance to celebrate a job well done – 903 times, if not more.