CRAWFORD | Lights keep coming on for Louisville in 71-64 win over Duke
Another game, another young player steps forward for Louisville in Saturday's 71-64 win over Duke. WDRB's Eric Crawford breaks down the game.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville basketball team’s lights have flickered on, one by one, as the season has worn on.
Donovan Mitchell. Ray Spalding. Every once in a while Jaylen Johnson. Anas Mahmoud. In the past several games, Matz Stockman.
And in Saturday’s 71-64 win over Duke, it was Deng Adel’s turn to shine.
Inserted at the shooting guard spot, Adel responded with defense, deflections, and in front of the biggest, liveliest crowd the KFC Yum! Center has seen all season, a freshman who sometimes has struggled with nerves showed impressive poise. He finished with 12 points, five rebounds, a steal and two assists.
“Coach wanted to give me a chance,” Adel said. “So I knew I better show up. And I don’t have much longer to play with Damion (Lee) and Trey (Lewis) and we all want to play well for those guys.”
Louisville did play well. And the Cardinals keep getting better, even if there’s little to get better for. Their depth keeps improving, even when injuries mount.
The influx of young talent makes you forget that Mangok Mathiang will sit out the rest of the season rather than rush a comeback from a fractured foot, or that Mahmoud is out with a sprained ankle.
“If we were all healthy and together,” Mitchell said. “Oh man. You saw what Deng brought today. The good thing about this team is that every time we’ve lost a player or had some adversity, somebody has stepped in and accepted the challenge to get better.”
It was Adel who led the way early, but it was graduate transfer Damion Lee who turned on late.
This was a game, Louisville coach Rick Pitino figured, he would win through attrition. Duke was coming off an emotional win over North Carolina Wednesday night, and had to play the early game Saturday — without star forward Matt Jones, who was injured against the Tar Heels.
That left Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski with only six regulars, but for three-quarters of Saturday’s game, that was more than enough.
Sophomore guard Grayson Allen had 19 points in the first half. The Blue Devils rained threes on the Cardinals, and after a Marshall Plumlee dunk with 12:26 left in the game, Duke led 50-38.
But from that point on, it was all red. The Cardinals outscored Duke 33-14 over the final 12 minutes and change, beginning with an Adel three-pointer.
Lee had 15 points in the final 12 minutes, including back-to-back threes with about six minutes left to put Louisville up for good, though they missed some free throws late that would’ve made the margin a little more comfortable.
“It was an incredible performance by our players,” Pitino said. “We knew they had a very difficult game against North Carolina. We just wanted to keep applying the heat and wait for our run. In some games I tell you that if you get your 40 deflections, or 35-plus, you win 95 percent of your games. And the only caveat that makes that not happen is when a team shoot an inordinate amount of threes and makes them. And that’s what happened. But when we switched to man-to-man we got much better coverage, and we did a lot of great things on offense. I’m really, really proud of the guys. I think they’re just a special, special group. And I’m really, really going to be sad when they leave me.”
Lee embraced Pitino as he left the court with a team-high 24 points. Trey Lewis did too, as he exited with eight points and a team-best five assists.
But the game was won with physical play, and second-half depth. Duke ran out of gas, and nearly ran out of players. Mike Krzyzewski got T’d up during a second-half timeout. Later, Allen fouled out when he was called for a charge, then drew a technical for disputing the call. Why did Krzyzewski get his T? He was asked afterward.
“You want a list?” he said.
Then Krzyzewski turned to Louisville
“They played their butt off and they are good, they are really good. I respect the hell out of them. They are going to play the game the way they are allowed to play it and they did. They played their butts off. And to their credit with their season, not being able to go to the postseason, I admire the effort and their tenacity and all that stuff. I always admire anything that Rick does. He’s a terrific friend and one of the great coaches of all time. So we expected that troubling tenacity.”
Louisville came out determined to stop Duke’s fantastic freshman, Brandon Ingram. He finished with eight points on 3-for-10 shooting and turned it over 10 times.
“We jammed him as much as we could, switched as much as we could,” Pitino said. “The young man’s probably going to be the No. 1 player picked in the draft, so we really had to get after him. . . . He reminds me so much of Kevin Durant. That’s as high a compliment as I could possibly give him. Because even though he’s physically thin, he’s not weak.”
For Lee, who had a tough night against Duke in the teams’ first meeting and was only 4-12 early in Saturday’s game, the late surge was welcome, to say the least. He hit three three-pointers down the stretch, and made four of his last five shots.
“I always tell Donovan in practice, if I make one, I’m on fire,” Lee said, smiling.
Pitino has written the ACC standings in big letters on the team’s white board. There are three goals on that board, with no postseason ahead. Win the ACC. Play hard. Have fun.
“Trey and I have 160 minutes of college basketball left,” Lee said after the game. “Four games to put on film and make it last forever. . . . We want to do something to remember.”
On Saturday, they did.
Let’s remember, this was a basketball team that was unranked to begin the season. It was picked to finish seventh in the ACC. It has had its postseason taken away. But it keeps improving. Chinanu Onuaku had 10 points and 11 rebounds. The Cardinals shot 50 percent for the game. And though Allen had 29 for Duke, the Blue Devils shot just 8-for-21 in the second half and went just 3-for-10 in the final 12 minutes.
“They had been through a tough game, and have some guys hurt,” Mitchell said. “They were huffing and puffing down the stretch.”
But this Louisville team is still going strong. Even if it has nowhere to go.
“Look, we don’t have a lot,” Pitino said. “And it’s going to really hit them on the last home game and the last away game. It’s going to hit them hard. It’s going to be difficult on Selection Sunday for all of us.”
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