LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Duke had been one of the hottest teams in the country after five straight ACC wins. But in recent days, it had also become one of the thinnest teams around.
The Blue Devils' lack of depth finally caught up to them at No. 18 Louisville on Saturday. The Cardinals used waves of fresh legs and constant defensive pressure to erase a 13-point second half deficit and pull out a 71-64 victory.
Although Louisville can’t play in the postseason because of a self-imposed tournament ban, the Cardinals can win the ACC regular-season championship. And now they’re just one game out of first place, having knocked off both Duke and North Carolina at the KFC Yum! Center.
Duke simply ran out of gas -- and bodies. An already skeleton crew grew even more threadbare when Derryck Thornton injured his right shoulder and leading scorer Grayson Allen fouled out late.
Here's a look at how it went down:
In Wednesday's improbable win at North Carolina, Duke was able to overcome its depth and size issues by spreading the floor and going one-on-one. That didn't work against the Louisville matchup zone, which left the Blue Devils hunting for outside shots.
The Cardinals' full-court press also paid major dividends. Not only did it forced Duke into 18 turnovers, the harassment made fatigue a factor down the stretch.
Rick Pitino played nine guys and substituted freely, and his team's physicality turned the tide. Louisville's defense did a fantastic job in particular against Brandon Ingram. The Blue Devils' star freshman hit a pair of three-pointers in the opening minutes but finished with just eight points and a nightmarish 10 turnovers. The future lottery pick slipped and fell while trying to bring Duke closer in the final minute, underlining his difficulties on the day.
No Jones, no bench
Duke guard Matt Jones, who sprained his left ankle against North Carolina, went through warmups and was listed by the team as available off the bench Saturday. It would have been a remarkably quick recovery, but Jones never entered the game.
That left the Blue Devils with six usable players, including a heavier-than-usual dose of Chase Jeter. He did score five points, which was three points less than he had tallied in the entirety of ACC play so far this season. Thornton went down hard on his shoulder midway through the second half and was in obvious pain. He managed to play in the final three minutes but was compromised.
The loss of Allen hurt the most. He scored 19 points in a brilliant first half but was disqualified after an offensive foul with 3:55 left. He also drew a technical foul on the call. Duke coach Mike Kryzewski also got T'd up during the second half, upset with foul calls on his team.
The good news, if there is any for Duke, is that Jones doesn't seem that far away from returning. The sooner, the better.
Pitino inserted Deng Adel into the starting lineup for just the fourth time this season and for only the second time in ACC play. It was a good decision.
The freshman, who came in averaging just 3.1 points per game, finished with 12 points, five rebounds and two assists. His hustle on both ends of the floor helped wear Duke down.
The future looks bright for these Cardinals, who started another freshman in Donovan Mitchell and got nice minutes off the bench from freshman Ray Spalding (eight points, three rebounds). But next year's team will miss the heart of senior Damion Lee. He led the Cardinals with 24 points and hit three big three-pointers in the midst of Louisville's second-half run.