Let’s be honest: for more than 30 minutes, and intensely for about 20 Tuesday night, Duke got its ass kicked by Louisville.
When Alex O’ Connell bobbled the ball out of bounds on the baseline with 9:41, Duke was down 59-36.
Cam Reddish hit a long three and then pressured the ball and Jordan Goldwire picked it up and took off for a layup which he missed badly. It began to look as if Duke woke up but things were still going Louisville’s way.
Louisville missed a three and then Reddish hit another very long one with 7:07 left to cut the lead to 59-40.
Louisville’s Dwayne Sutton hit a three with 6:40 left to push it back to 21.
Zion OMG Williamson then split two defenders and converted a three point play to cut the lead to 16.
Then Goldwire stole the ball on the inbounds and hit Jones for a streaking layup to cut the lead down to 14 at 62-46.
On the next inbounds Jones almost took the ball away and forced Louisville to call a timeout.
After the timeout, Jones took it away again and took off for a layup. He was fouled and missed but the officials didn’t see it.
After Louisville got over half court, Williamson took it away again and was fouled on his break and hit both to cut the lead to 62-50.
Duke was on a seven-point run.
Then Williamson did it again, taking it away from Cunningham in the lane and flipped the ball ahead to RJ Barrett to cut the lead to 10 with 5:16 left.
This was getting very interesting.
When Louisville came up court, Jones and Goldwire just surrounded Sutton but fouled him. He hit both to push it back to a 12 point lead at 64-52 with 5:00 to go.
Barrett, getting into Laettner mode, hit Williamson with a behind the back pass. Steven Enoch sent him to the line. He hit both and it was a 10 point game again at 64-54.
Then Sutton took a corner J and Williamson grabbed the rebound and went coast to coast.
You could really start to sense it at this point. Something special was happening and Louisville was feeling the pressure.
His three point play cut it to seven and Goldwire immediately batted the ball out of bounds. He was then whistled for a foul and put Ryan McMahon on the line.
Forget it. He’s in JJ Redick land from the line and hit both.
Then a dreadful mistake by Jordan Nwora, who fouled Reddish on a three point attempt. He missed the shot but got all three foul shots to cut the lead to just six with 4:05 to go.
On the inbounds, Jones and Goldwire trapped a Louisville player who threw a risky pass. Cunningham picked it up but then Barrett picked off a subsequent pass and took it in for a layup to cut Louisville’s lead to 66-61.
By this time, all the cockiness and bounce was gone from the Cardinals. They looked scared.
Louisville tried a pass inside when they got the ball up court but Goldwire tipped it and Williamson picked it up.
When Reddish hit a cocky three with 2:55 left, Louisville’s lead was down to just three. You could feel the crowd panicking and see the confidence on the court dissolve. Actually it was long gone by then.
Duke was playing with an insane swagger by this point. Earlier, they couldn’t even walk the baseline. Now? This was. sneering, swaggering bunch of Blue Devils.
On the other end, Nwora answered with a three to push the lead back to 69-64.
Reddish tried another long three and the Cards got the rebound...but Williamson fell to the floor and Cunningham slipped on his sweat spot. An alert Jones picked the ball up and scored again to cut it back to 69-66.
McMahon missed a layup and Jones came up with the ball. He flipped it ahead to Barrett who, in what will become an icon of casual arrogance, of positive swagger, flipped a no-look pass between his legs to Reddish.
Reddish shot from near the J in the Papa John’s scoreboard sign and just nailed it. Everyone knew it was going in, even everyone in a Louisville jersey.
Louisville came down and Darius Perry dribbled towards the lane. Bad mistake! Goldwire closed on him from behind and poked the ball out of bounds and Duke got it back with 1:16 to go.
Reddish took another three - why not? - but missed.
Nwora took a deep three near the Louisville bench which also missed and Goldwire picked up the rebound, handing it to Jones as Duke called a timeout with 30.1 left.
Reddish drove and at first it looked like a charge but after review, McMahon was found to be in the arc and it was ruled a block which put Reddish on the line with 14.9 left.
Reddish stepped up and calmly hit the winning points, just as he did at Florida State.
What do you do at this point? You’ve lost a 23 point lead. Cunningham came down and went at Goldwire, who reacted superbly, staying close to his man but never making contact. He contested the shot, it missed, and Williamson pulled it down for the victory.
It was an incredible comeback and we had to search for a reference and then we found it: Maryland in the 2001 Final Four.
Maryland had a similar collapse. Watching that bench erupt in confused, shocked anger was incredibly sweet. It was tremendously fun to watch that team implode.
This one was amazing to watch too but you have to ache a bit for Louisville. Those guys have done so much this year to maintain the competitive standard of an elite team and to redefine the program after massive scandals. As Coach K said afterwards, they deserved to win but it just wasn't meant to be.
If they had though we would not have objected. For 30 minutes, those guys played like absolute champions and Duke fans, indeed all basketball fans, should honor them for their effort.
Unfortunately, Duke showed the heart of champions as well.
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