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01/18/20 – Content by: Maria Murphy
Walking around the beautiful Duke campus around 10 a.m. on this crisp Saturday morning, there was nothing in the air. No excitement, no buzz. A random student would occasionally walk briskly by, headed to a Saturday class or the library.
Krzyzewskiville, the vaunted campground where students line up for treasured tickets, sometimes days before for big games, was half-full of tents and almost vacant of (awake) bodies. The stadium itself, Cameron Indoor, was open early getting ready for ESPN’s College Gameday. Inside there was certainly some excitement, but bigger crowds have been at these events before.
Were the #3 Duke Blue Devils and their fans worried about the matchup with the #11 Louisville Cardinals?
Duke earlier this week lost unexpectedly to 2-3 (in ACC) Clemson. Louisville, ranked #1 earlier in the season, had won two ACC games on the road after two straight losses to UK and Florida State.
And then there was that game between the two teams last year, where Duke stormed back from being down 23 points with less than 10 minutes to play. A game that Louisville Head Coach Chris Mack admitted yesterday was too tough to watch in preparation for tonight’s contest.
By the time tipoff rolled around at 6:05 ET, the hype had started to build for the 465th straight sellout crowd on Duke’s home court. Their fans, the Cameron Crazies, were in fine form and made their normal greetings to the visiting team starting lineup, “Hi (player name), you suck!”.
Duke won the tip and after the exchanges of a couple missed baskets by each team, Duke’s Matthew Hurt made a three pointer. Little did all in attendance know, it would be Duke’s only lead of the game.
The Cardinals set the tone early with very active hands. And the referees let them play. Within the first six minutes of the game Louisville had made three steals and forced two jump balls.
Louisville also appeared to have an early game plan of getting the ball inside. Freshman guard David Johnson, coming off his strongest game of the season at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, was huge in the first half. He drove the lane often and scored on a variety of layups and dunks. When not scoring he was dishing out assists down low as well. In the first 11:06 of the game, the Cardinals outscored the Blue Devils in the paint 20-0. And Johnson finished the half with 17 points and four assists.
At the midway point, Louisville led Duke 42-32.
In a somewhat surprising move, Mack started the second half with the original Cardinal five players, leaving red-hot, reserve Johnson on the bench. Winning at Cameron is not easy, as proven by their 900-162 record at home, and Duke had no intention of going away. The Blue Devils started out the second half on fire and the fans had the place rocking, going on a 6-0 run and cutting the Cardinal lead to four. Louisville Senior Stephen Enoch ended the run with a made layup.
Johnson re-entered the game at the 17:26 mark with his Cardinals up 44-40. On the next possession Enoch hit a three. Enoch scored 10 points in the game, ironically scoring five points on consecutive baskets in each half.
The refs continued to allow the physical play for the most part, but fouls were still starting to add up. It did not stop either team from trying to drive the ball to the rim. Louisville senior Dwayne Sutton, known for his toughness, was fouled on a layup and hit the ground hard. He reacted with a couple push-ups on his way to the free throw line. He hit both shots extending the Louisville lead to nine, 54-45.
The Blue Devils had another run in them. Hurt and Cassius Stanley, who the Cardinals had trouble with all night, had back-to-back fast break baskets. Then Sutton was called for a phantom foul on a three-pointer by Hurt, who made all three free throws. The game was tied at 58-58 and it felt as if momentum was moving to the home team.
But Louisville, with plenty of experience on its roster, maintained its composure in the raucous environment. Graduate transfer Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble was fouled on a made layup and made the free throw. The ACC leading scorer, Cardinal Jordan Nwora, had a pretty quiet night overall but scored on a breakaway dunk. Then it was Duke’s turn with freshman stud Vernon Carey Jr making a layup and Tre Jones sinking a three-pointer. The game was again tied at 63.
The Cardinals would have the final answer. Senior Ryan McMahon, likely with his fewest minutes played on the season, was inserted in the game and immediately hit a huge three pointer. Each team exchanged a few more baskets and free throws until junior Malik Williams grabbed a huge rebound and was fouled, sinking both free throws. Eight seconds later he put the game away for good on a huge dunk.
The Cardinals earned a hard-fought, signature road win, 79-73. Louisville was led in points by Johnson who finished with 19. Three others scored in double figures with Sutton having 13, Williams 12 and Enoch’s 10. Stanley led Duke with 24.
Before tonight’s game Coach Mack had also commented on Kimble and Williams poise and play making abilities in big games this season. The two made big plays again down the stretch for the Cards. When Williams was asked about this after the game, he stated that “we are doing what the games give us and neither of us are forcing anything. We are just going out doing what we need to do to get the win.”
After the game Coach Mack said he was “really proud” of his team. He said, “to win here, with them coming off a loss, you are going to have to be a tougher team for 40 minutes”. Tonight, the Cardinals were the tougher team.
Louisville comes home after this long road stretch to face Georgia Tech on Wednesday.