You cannot make this stuff up.
Duke’s 71-69 win over Louisville may not be the best comeback in Duke history.
But it has to be on the short list.
A very short list.
Duke trailed 59-36 with just under 10 minutes remaining.
On the road.
Against a nationally-ranked team.
An inspired Louisville team dominated the middle portion of the game, knocking down 3s, using their bench, scoring in transition, staring down Duke’s lottery picks. At one point Louisville outscored Duke 44-17 over two halves, an astonishing level of dominance.
But Duke turned up the defensive pressure down the stretch, not just the usual suspects but also deep reserve Jordan Goldwire.
And that Zion Williamson fellow is pretty good. He was about the only good thing Duke had going for much of the game, before classmates R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones found their footing.
It actually started off well for Duke. The Blue Devils led much of the early going.
Then the wheels started to come off. Duke’s newly-found 3-point prowess deserted them, while guys like Steven Enoch, Darius Perry and break-out sophomore Jordan Nwora were lighting it up for the home team.
The final few minutes of the first half was a disaster for the visitors, Louisville ending on a 10-3 run, as Duke came up empty on five consecutive possessions.
Louisville led 38-29 at the half.
Still, Duke has made something of a cottage industry this season of turning it on after a desultory start.
So, nine points was a gap but perhaps not a chasm.
But if the Duke faithful expected the Blue Devils to come storming out of their locker room, they were sorely disappointed.
Nwora hit a 3 right off the bat, then Malik Williams hit a 3 and the deficit was 16 and then it was 19 and finally the margin reached 23, a 21-7 Louisville burst that in any rational universe should have sewn up the victory.
Duke went nine minutes without a field goal.
Was Krzyzewski expecting a comeback at that point?
“I did think that we could play better. I was hoping we wouldn’t lose by 35—I’m not kidding, we could have. So, you’re talking positive, but I don’t believe it. Once that press was going, I said, ‘We’ve got a chance here. We can get it.’ But, at that point, I think I may have been telling them a lie.”
Williamson told ESPN right after the game that Krzyzewski’s message was that he didn’t coach losers.
Maybe it was the message. Or maybe Louisville regressed to the mean. But Duke started digging down on defense and the tide turned, slowly, agonizingly slowly, as the deficit shrank and the clock wound down and would Duke run out of time before they ran out of deficit?.
Duke got it done on both ends. Williamson continued to dominate inside. But he started getting help from Barrett and Reddish. The big three scored 31 of those final 35 points; Jones had the other four.
But trading baskets wasn’t going to get it done.
Duke went to a 2-2-1 zone and Jones became the defender we’ve seen much of the season, disrupting Louisville and picking pockets. Goldwire joined him in a small-ball backcourt.
The open looks went away, the driving lanes closed. Live-ball turnovers turned into transition points.
“They started playing complacent,” Williamson said, “playing towards the crowd by shooting a lot of threes and we didn’t want to give them threes but it worked to our favor and we capitalized off them.”
It’s hard to find one play that keyed the comeback. Perhaps it was Williamson’s three-point play in transition that made it 64-57, with 4:13 left. Or a Barrett steal and layup that made it 66-61, with 3:32 remaining, after which Louisville used its final timeout.
“They couldn’t really handle the pressure,” Barrett said. “Tre and J Gold were doing a great job up there and me, Z and Cam were back there getting steals so the pressure really messed them up.”
Reddish and Nwora traded threes, the latter making it 69-64.
But Louisville didn’t score again. Jones got a steal and layup.
Krzyzewski cited the Jones steal.
“One of the biggest plays of the game was Tre’s steal when it was 69-64. I think if he doesn’t do that then we’re not going to win. I thought that was a huge play.”
Then Reddish tied it on a three, after a no-look backwards, between-the-legs pass by Barrett.
Who makes that pass at that point in the game?
Duke got a stop, then Reddish got to the line after a charge call was correctly overturned on review and calmly knocked down both freebies.
Louisville had a chance but their final shot went awry and the stunned crowd went home in silence.
Krzyzewski conceded that Duke was outplayed and outworked for 30 minutes before “the sense of urgency… sometimes something you do doesn’t work because of the attitude you have when you do it. So, the sense of urgency made the defense work. My guys want to win.”
The win runs Duke’s record to 22-2, 10-1 in the ACC. Duke is 6-0 on the road in the ACC.
Williamson led everyone with 27 points and 12 rebounds. It’s his 10th double-double of the season.
Reddish added 22, Barrett 13, as the four freshmen combined for 68 of Duke’s 71 points.
Duke only had two blocks but picked up a dozen steals, leading to 17 Louisville turnovers.
Duke’s 23-point comeback is the program’s second-biggest second-half deficit overcome and the biggest in the Krzyzewski era. The school record for second-half comebacks was a 31-point margin overcome versus Tulane in the 1950 Dixie Classic.
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- Box Score (PDF)
- Season Stats (PDF)
- Postgame Notes (PDF)
- Coach K Quotes
- Duke Player Quotes
- Louisville Quotes
- Photo Gallery
- From the Boards: Post Game discussion, Advanced Stats, and Plus/Minus
Player Of The Game vs. Louisville
This poll is closed
Alex O’ Connell
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