Rookie phenom Jalen Johnson scored the Blue Devils’ first five points of the afternoon, all in the paint including a +1.
Knowing he’d come off the bench in Duke’s last outing at Pitt, and put up 24 and 15, I jotted this knee jerk musing in my game notes. “Hold it to just Johnson, Win Game.”
Kind of like, “I don’t need no head of Alfredo Garcia, just bring me the rest of his stinkin’ gang.”
Will I never learn?
So, of course, he only tallies four the rest of the game, gives it away six times, only grabs 4 rebounds, and spends as much time on the pine as between the lines.
Forcing me to consider his sidekick, Matthew Hurt. You know the guy with the U.G.L.Y. scraggly whaler’s beard, and two centimeter jump shot. Which always seems to find the bottom of the net.
Hurt notched five of the visitors’ first 7 after intermission, as part of a 7-1 run to take a 40-37 lead over the Cardinals.
Stick with me here, if you’re wondering why I’m starting with all this Duke talk. The good stuff is on its way.
So, with 18:14 left, U of L’s halftime advantage had evaporated. Hurt had 20 of the Evil Empire’s 40.
Which allows me to shout from on high about the best individual defensive performance by a Cardinal against a Blue Devil, since Jeff Hall shut down Johnny Dawkins in the 2d of the ‘86 title tilt. (Yes, U of L did a good job on Brandon Ingram a few seasons back, but that was a team effort.)
David Johnson came up huge. The kid does seem to excel when Coach K is on the other bench.
DJ checked Hurt relentlessly, holding him to four points the rest of the way. 8/10 from the field until the Johnson lockdown, Weird Beard only got off three attempts thereafter, hitting only one.
Dat’s some D.
David Johnson, we are not worthy.
* * * * *
That brings me to what was likely the key play in a game that featured 8 ties and 18 lead changes, most in the final stages.
In that tense back and forth crunch time to the final buzzer, the Blue Devils took the lead 63-62 at 2:07, when DJ Steward converted a 1+1.
On Louisville’s ensuing possession, Chris Mack earned his pay check, adroitly calling a set, where Hurt would have to switch on Mr. Indispensable, Carlik Jones. Who drove to the hoop, drawing Hurt’s fifth foul, eliminating the chance U of L might lose on some flat footed, are-you-kidding-me Hurtful jumper at the end.
Ever clutch Jones made both charity tosses. 64-63, Cards.
But, beleaguered as they might be, Duke is Duke.
That Jalen Johnson dude answered, scoring in the paint. 65-64, Blue Devils.
The best player on the floor countered — that would be Carlik Jones, as if I must remind you — with a driving layup. U of L, 66-65.
Jae’Lyn Withers drew a charge. But the Cards couldn’t convert.
Sam Williamson, who came up big in relief off the bench, snared a defensive rebound off a Joey Baker miss.
Carlik then did what Carlik does, driving the lane and drawing a foul, and converting the FTs. 68-65, Cards.
After the second of two Duke misses on the next possession, there was the proverbial mad scramble for the rock. Sam Williamson dove into the scrum, forced a Held Ball. Possession Arrow: Good Guys.
Need I say the name of the fellow, who, driving the lane, drew another foul on the Cards possession?
I. Don’t. Think. So.
CJ drained both freebies, for the final 70-65 margin.
* * * * *
Carlik Jones: 24 points. 5 assists. 3 rebounds. 2 steals. He drew an amazing ten fouls. 11/12 at the line. Smile.
Defensive Player of the Game David Johnson: 12 points. 8 rebounds. 5 assists. 2 steals.
Jae’Lyn Withers went for 13 and 7.
Dre Davis, hanging tough despite leg cramps, tallied 11. I loved when he stole the ball, went end to end for +1, to give Louisville a 21-19 lead.
Oh yeah, there’s that behind the back dime to JW.
Sam Williamson was rock solid, coming off the bench, when Coach Mack started Quin Slazinski instead. 6 points. 7 rebounds, three of which came in the important final minutes.
Louisville shot 15 more FTs than Duke. When has that ever happened before?
* * * * *
Louisville’s defense was strong the whole way.
Louisville got off to a steady start. At both ends. At the first media timeout, the Cards already had four points off two Duke turnovers. At one point, that advantage was 9-2.
Louisville’s resilience was present all day. As when they answered a 6-0 Duke run to fall behind, 27-30, with a 7-0 counterattack for 34-30 lead. Williamson for 2, Davis for 2, and a Johnson triple.
The Cardinals had a similar flurry in the second to go from 39-42 to 46-42. A DJ trey started that run, followed by a Withers two, and Jones deuce.
* * * * *
Beating Duke always makes the heart full. My peeps were unanimous in that regard after the victory.
But in this cockamamie campaign, it won’t even count as a Tier 1 win. Duke was 93d in the NET before the game.
But it’s still the Blue Devils, whose standing is such that, along with the reality that Louisville is ESPN’s biggest college hoops market, the game was Saturday Primetime.
Dan and Jay were in the house. Or, at least in the attic, where announcers sit this pandemic year in the Yum!.
On a day, when there were four other contests pitting Top 25 schools, this was the feature attraction. A good thing.
Next: BC, next Saturday at the Yum.
— c d kaplan