#2 Duke overcomes 23-point deficit to beat #16 Louisville

This game went exactly as we all expected. Right? The Blue Devils coming off a convincing victory against #3 UVA, on the road, for the second time this season. The team has not lost a single true road game all season. Louisville, on the other hand, just lost a grueling OT contest against FSU. So, Louisville will keep it close, as a good ACC opponent does, but Duke will prove to be an overwhelming force. That’s how this goes, correct? Not so much.

Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) playing  against the Kentucky Wildcats in the first half during the Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Williamson contributed 27 and 12 in Duke’s comeback. (Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports) 

To be fair, this game started like that. Some sloppy play by both teams that eventually found some rhythm, the game was tight throughout a lot of the first half. Sophomore forward Jordan Nwora was scoring and grabbing boards to spark offensive momentum for the Cardinals. Sixth-man Steven Enoch was also a presence down low, offering more reinforcement and physicality for Louisville and that allowed some good spurts of scoring. Of course, Zion was doing Zion things and had a subtle 13 and 7 in the first half.

All the antics aside, Louisville had themselves a nice nine-point cushion going into the break and Chris Mack had to be proud of what his team had done in the first period, but had to spur them on to keeping the foot on the gas.

Foot on the gas would be an understatement for what Louisville brought to the KFC Yum! Center crowd out of the gate.

For twelve minutes, if you were asked which team is primarily freshman, the answer would be obvious. However, if the question was in regards to which team is #2 in the country, you would be confused.

The Cardinals knocked down five three-pointers in the second half, but it felt like more than that. That would be likely have to do with the fact that Duke seemed to be incapable of making anything. At one point, their drought approached seven minutes without a bucket. Mike Krzyzewski has historically had phenomenal shooting teams, but that hasn’t been shown to be so true this year. That being said, Cam Reddish can be one of the most lethal shooters beyond the arc when hot.

Another sharp shooter would be Alex O’Connell, who has not logged many minutes in recent time, but tonight had his number called due to some foul trouble Williamson found himself in. Not to assign blame, but when Coach K made the switch from O’Connell to sophomore Jordan Goldwire, a different level of intensity showed up.

Around the 9:00 mark, Williamson, on four fouls, and Goldwire checked in as Duke faced a 23-point deficit, the largest of the season by almost 10. Next, there was a steal. Then a trap. Then another sloppy possession, forced three by Louisville, who could not be paid to hold the ball until the shot clock was almost up.

Once Duke got the deficit to single digits, it became a game of “Which lottery pick will score next?”. A Reddish three, a Barrett lay-up through contact, or a Zion and-one will be the highlights of this resurgence. Tre Jones, who had a difficult night handling the ball, helped Goldwire put Cardinal guard Christen Cunningham in tough spots breaking the press. These were six of the 13 second half turnovers by Louisville.

The Blue Devils found themselves with the ball with 30 seconds left and in a play drawn up by Coach K, Cam Reddish penetrated only to get called for a charge on Louisville guard Ryan McMahon. In the second decisive official review of the night in Top-25 basketball, the call was overturned as McMahon had his foot in the arc. Reddish sunk both free throws. In a gritty show on the other end, Duke made the stop and completed their 23-point comeback.

After the game, Zion Williamson said the Coach K informed the team in a huddle, “I don’t coach losers. I coach winners.” Those words appear to be very true at this moment. With two matchups still to play against rivals UNC and an always unpredictable run in to the ACC Tournament remaining, this group of Blue Devils turned out to be special again.

Final box score

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Author: Will Copeland

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