Playing with more energy and fight than we’ve seen from them in two months, Louisville made things interesting against No. 9 Duke for 35 minutes before ultimately falling, 74-65.
The Cardinals got off to a slow start against the 17-3 Blue Devils, falling behind by as many as 16 points. U of L was able to trim that lead all the way down to 2, but a walk by Malik Williams just before the halftime buzzer gave the ball to Duke with 0.6 seconds to play. A.J. Griffin, just as every tortured Louisville fan expected, then buried a 30-footer to give momentum back to the visitors as both teams headed to the locker room.
U of L didn’t let that adversity affect their play after the break, as they went shot for shot with Duke for the first 15 minutes of the second half. With the score tied at 60, the Blue Devils tightened up and went on a game-defining 12-0 run to effectively end Louisville’s upset bid.
El Ellis was the top offensive performer for the Cards, coming off the bench to score a team-high 18 points. Dre Davis added 16 despite being saddled with foul trouble, and Malik Williams snagged 12 rebounds to go along with 10 points.
Griffin was the unexpected star for Duke, drilling all five of his three-point attempts — including two during the game’s most critical stretch — on his way to a game-high 22 points. Mark Williams (14 and 11) and Paolo Banchero (11 and 15) each posted double-doubles as the Blue Devils destroyed U of L on the offensive glass, producing a whopping 21 offensive rebounds.
The effort was fantastic, the home crowd was the best it’s been all season (season-high 18,493 in attendance), and the overall viewing experience was more enjoyable than anything we’ve seen since this team returned from the Bahamas. While I would have loved for the defensive rebounding to be better and some of the off-the-ball defense to be more aware, given everything that’s transpired this week, it’s hard to ask for much more than we got this afternoon.
At the same time, it’s probably going to be a bit more difficult for these players and this fan base to get up for games that aren’t being played against Duke and that are more than a few days removed from the parting of ways with Chris Mack. Here’s hoping both sides are able to do it, because for about 110 minutes this afternoon, watching Cardinal basketball felt the way it’s supposed to feel in late January.
Who knows what the next five weeks have in store, but it certainly feels like they have the potential to be more fun to follow than any of us were imagining four days ago.