Duke vs. Louisville score: No. 2 Blue Devils stage epic 23-point comeback in second half
The largest second half comeback in Coach K's Duke career was powered by defense and team toughness
It was the perfect letdown spot. After knocking off Virginia on Saturday in one of the biggest games of the season, No. 2 Duke had to hit the road again, this time to face No. 16 Louisville in a packed Yum! Center looking to see another success-affirming win here in Chris Mack's first season with the Cardinals.
For more than 30 minutes of game time, Louisville pitched the perfect game. Everything that Mack drew up was working on offense and the Blue Devils looked lost as Louisville stretched the lead to 23 points with 9:13 remaining.
But that changed when, according to Zion Williamson, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told his team, "I don't coach losers" and continued to tell this young team that they would, in fact, win the game.
Duke's 71-69 win at Louisville was confirmation of this team's toughness, and it's willingness to believe in its coach who just so happens to be the winningest in the history of the sport. This was a young team in a tough spot, getting outplayed on the road and absolutely beaten down by a Louisville team that, for 30 minutes, totally dominated nearly every aspect of the contest.
"It just took us playing hard," Williamson told ESPN after the game. "They were playing harder than us, Louisville's a very great win. It was a little frustrating at first. Coach K always told us if we need confidence look at him. And he was telling us the whole time that we were going to win. And shout out to Jordan Goldwire. He came in, played excellent defense. He really stepped up for us."
The 35-10 run Duke used to close the game included 10-of-15 shooting, 11 made free throws and was powered by full-court defensive pressure that turned Louisville's offense into a game of hot potato. Empty possessions -- either because of turnovers or bad shots -- allowed the Blue Devils to chip into the lead. Duke gained confidence with every bucket, celebrating loudly and embracing the challenge of mounting this historic comeback. Williamson and RJ Barrett got aggressive, and started attacking Louisville's defenders in one-on-one opportunities.
The 23-point second-half comeback was the largest for Coach K during his time at Duke and the largest in program history since 1950-51.
It shouldn't be lost how close Louisville came to holding on for this win. The Cardinals had a look from 3-point range by leading scorer Jordan Nwoara with 45 seconds when the score was tied 69-69 and a Christen Cunningham jump shot to tie with three seconds left. Both shots were good looks that just didn't fall, but those misses followed more than a dozen small defeats in the quest for ultimately victory over the Blue Devils.
Not only did Cam Reddish's game-winning free throws come after a charge call was reviewed and switched to a block when Ryan McMahon was determined to be inside the protected area at the time of contact, but most of the final minutes for Louisville were played with no timeouts. While the Cardinals couldn't find any kind of rhythm or organization on offense, Chris Mack was left to look frustrated on the sidelines with few ways to rally the troops.
Louisville has already proved itself to be one of the best teams in the ACC, right there behind the power trio of Duke, Virginia and North Carolina. The collapse doesn't change anything about this team's status and the first 30 minutes should only affirm that Mack has things moving in the right direction. This result was mostly a credit to the comeback, and how dangerous Duke can be when it decides to flex its toughness on the defensive end of the court.
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