Duke ran into a wicked Louisville defense on Saturday and fell to the Cardinals in the not-so-Yum-Center.
People are going to focus on the absence of Coach K but right now the bigger problem is the absence of Amile Jefferson, still out with a bone bruise.
Jefferson is a really solid interior defender and communicator. It’s impossible to say, but our hunch is that Anas Mahmoud would not have shot 6-9 and finished with 17 points if Jefferson had had a hand in this game.
He didn’t of course and Duke had a tough time matching Louisville’s inside presence. Duke shot 19-37 but most of that was Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard, who shot 6-8 and 6-9 respectively. Matt Jones also shot well, hitting 3-5.
The rest of the team? 4-15.
That doesn't explain how many shots were altered in the paint. Duke got those shots off, but Louisville forced them to be shot at awkward angles.
And while Duke’s backcourt shot 15-22, it also had 10 turnovers - three by Kennard, five by Allen and one each by Matt Jones and Frank Jackson.
Duke had 17 turnovers overall and just three offensive rebounds.
So you can see where Jefferson would have made a difference.
Even so, Duke still could have won. The Blue Devils missed a ton of free throws down the stretch, as Louisville’s D perhaps took a heavy toll. If Duke had hit some of the late misses and hit a shot with 13.3 left - Allen missed - it might have been a tie game.
But that’s pointless now and a lost opportunity.
Duke’s freshmen, as talented as they are, struggled mightily. Harry Giles, Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier, who played for the first time in a good while, are all getting over injuries.
However, Jayson Tatum and Jackson also played poorly. In particular, Tatum was visibly frustrated by Louisville and made several poor decisions.
Jackson got in early foul trouble and never got untracked.
Again, having an experienced senior on the floor would have been really helpful.
The freshmen will continue to improve and games like this, difficult though they are, will help to toughen them up.
Duke now gets a week off and time for everyone to get treatment, particularly Jefferson.
It hasn’t been an easy stretch, but there are some positives over the last few games. We continue to see tantalizing hints of Giles’ potential. Allen has done a better job at point than we ever expected. And the team is sticking together despite short term adversity.
Although he’s still recuperating from surgery, we’d expect that Coach K will communicate with his team, whether at his house or the gym, and we’d also expect, given his natural proclivities, that since he can’t do much else, he’s been watching even more film than he usually does.
Lessons will be learned and applied and young players will mature. This Duke team is a long way from where it will be.
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