For at least a half an hour Tuesday Duke looked dead. The Blue Devils were on their way to their third loss of the year. Then the Cardinal lead dwindled. 16, then 14, then 12, then 10. Zion Williamson subsequently pumped his fist, since Duke was within seven days including a free throw. Were the Blue Devils about to make it happen?
Second-ranked Duke dominated the final 10 minutes to pull off the most improbable of comebacks and stun No. 16 Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center, winning 71-69 to remain perfect on the road in ACC play with. The Blue Devils scored 14 of the last 17 points, as freshman Cam Reddish scored 10 to assist Duke to overcome its biggest deficit of the Coach K era.
“I told my team, I said, look, you’re not losers, but you’re playing like losers,”’ head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “[Louisville] outplayed us for half an hour. I mean, not outplayed, they outcompeted us. They probably were deserving of winning, but at the past ten minutes, we were magnificent.” Following an R.J. Barrett layup to bring the Blue Devils (22-2, 10-1 in the ACC) within five, as near as they’d been since late in the first half, Reddish canned a 3-pointer from the left wing to make it 66-64. And after the Cardinal lead stretched back Tre Jones stripped the ball away to deliver Duke back over three.
Reddish came up enormous yet again, drilling cold attempt to tie things with less than 90 minutes in 69 apiece to perform to a stone. “We work so much, we get a lot of shots up in practice, so misses do not really affect us much and we knew we needed to continue shooting,” said Reddish, who missed three of his long-distance attempts in the first half. “During halftime, Coach came in and he did not want to get on us too, too awful. He explained we were going to win the match. We sure that, went out there and just played our game”
The two groups came up empty on their excursions, respectively, setting the platform for those hosts to grab the lead in the last minute. However, Nwora, Louisville’s leading scorer on the night with 23 points, missed a 3-pointer to provide the Blue Devils a chance. Reddish was whistled for a fee with 14.9 ticks remaining, seemingly giving the hosts the last possession of regulation. This was before the track was assessed by the refs, giving the Blue Devil freshman two free throws and overturning the call since Ryan McMahon was at the restricted area.
Reddish converted equally, giving Duke a lead and capping an epic push. “We were not prepared to play at the beginning,” Barrett explained. “They just kept taking it to us you know, someplace with 7:30 left we found a spark and just kept pressuring them and kept moving.” Louisville (17-8, 8-4) would have one last shot to ship things to overtime, but a Christen Cunningham jumper rimmed out just before the last buzzer. Tuesday’s game started with as awful a four-minute sequence as any. Neither group can get its offensive juices flowing since the two sides together for just five points on 2-of-15 shooting.
However, two of the five offenses of the ACC would not remain that quiet for long. The Blue Devils and Cardinals continued with neither side going up by more than four for nearly 15 minutes, to exchange leads. Louisville began to stretch the lead and found its groove. A Steven Enoch triple brought the fans inside the KFC Yum! Center to the Cardinals along with their toes kept it going. The hosts went in more than four minutes on an 11-3 run, grabbing a lead and taking advantage of idle transition defense.
The Cardinals poured it farther after the break, with the Blue Devils showing a fight. Louisville began the second half on an 8-3 run, forcing Krzyzewski to call an early 30-second timeout. When Williamson picked up his third foul of the competition 90 feet in the basket the house that was packed erupted. Things did not get with all the Blue Devils’ leading scorer on the bench. Duke went for almost half an hour with a field goal, as Louisville seized control.
He didn’t last long — less than 30 minutes later sending Williamson back to the pine and getting back to the ground, the 6-foot-7 forward committed his fourth foul, riling up the Cardinal loyal once again when Williamson returned. That is if the Blue Devils’ star heard a voice. “I don’t know when this is cheesy or corny, but my mother, she is right behind the seat,” Williamson said. “She’s always been there for me, she is why I’m in this situation. When I heard her voice and she said it’s alright, just be you. Make them pay when you return.’ All of my frustrations moved away and I tried to make them pay”
Even though it wasn’t Williamson on his own, the freshman played a function. Duke went small, with all the tandem of Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire to stress the Louisville backcourt and putting Williamson at the center of its 2-2-1 zone. With that switch, the Blue Devils discovered a thing –and just in time. “That’s why I come to Duke, merely to be part of games like this,” Williamson explained. “We never stop trying. We always look at each other and give ‘Hey, let’s do so.’ We have each other win or lose. We’re not likely to really go out not fighting.”