LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Through 12 minutes, the Blue Devils’ second top-15 road test of the week could not have been going much better.
No. 7 Duke had built a 19-12 lead at No. 14 Louisville, taking a raucous KFC Yum! Center crowd out of the game with more disciplined interior defense and patient offense predicated on driving the ball to the rim.
But the Cardinals gave the Blue Devils a dose of their own medicine by attacking the rim at will to close the period, forcing Duke to relive its nightmare from just four days ago at No. 9 Florida State.
Louisville used a 20-5 spurt to break out of a miserable shooting slump and get its pressure defense going in a 78-69 win against the Blue Devils. Although Duke cut the lead to four at halftime and even re-took the lead early in the second half, a season-high 18 Blue Devil turnovers and more crippling foul trouble proved too much for Duke to overcome.
After the Blue Devils took a 37-36 lead with 17:50 left in the game, Louisville ripped off seven quick points fueled by back-to-back turnovers from Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen to take the lead for good. Although Kennard and Allen were effective scoring, combining for 40 points, the tandem struggled to create open looks for its teammates against Louisville’s pressure.
Duke had just eight assists as a team and is now worse than .500 in ACC play through five or more games for the first time since 2006-07. Allen had another strong game at Louisville after pouring in 29 a year ago, finishing with 23 points and nine rebounds—including six points in a row midway through the second half—in a losing effort.
“We didn’t have the poise necessary to beat a good team in their court,” Duke interim head coach Jeff Capel said. “I thought we were able to run stuff when we had poise. The thing they do, they keep coming after you and at times when you don’t have poise, they speed you up and I thought that’s what happened to us today. At times, their defense sped us up and we have to do a better job of that.”
The Blue Devils (14-4, 2-3 in the ACC) got off to a strong start by securing the paint early in the game. Freshman forward Harry Giles blocked two early shots, and Duke forced a poor shooting team to settle for jump shots to quiet the home crowd in the first few minutes of the contest.
But as the fouls started piling up—five Blue Devils had at least two in the first half and freshman Jayson Tatum sat on the bench for most of the second half with foul trouble—the Cardinals (15-3, 3-2) got more aggressive.
Louisville center Anas Mahmoud got loose behind Duke’s defense for several easy buckets at the rim as the first half wore on, finishing the period with 13 points and seven boards to spark his team’s first-half spurt with graduate student Amile Jefferson sidelined for a second straight game with a right-foot bone bruise.
Capel said Jefferson is still day-to-day with the injury and that he does not know when the graduate student will return.
“We just weren’t where we needed to be for all 40 minutes. It was about six or seven minutes in the first half where we let up, and we get up and get on a run, and in the second half, we did the same thing,” Tatum said. “We were just fighting behind the whole time. We’ve just got to be stronger on defense.”
The Cardinals then used their pressure man-to-man defense to take Blue Devils other than Allen out of the game. Kennard was held to just seven points after halftime and was visibly frustrated by his team’s inability to take care of the ball. Duke’s freshmen combined to shoot 7-of-21 from the field in another poor road performance.
Allen was much more assertive as a scorer than he has been since returning from his one-game tripping suspension with the Blue Devils struggling to generate offense, but Duke’s primary ball handler was forced into six turnovers.
“Their defense comes at you. They’re very aggressive. As the game goes on, they don’t get tired—they pick up their pressure,” Allen said. “I would have liked to find a few of my guys for open shots and create a few open shots but you have to give a lot of credit to them for what they do on the defensive end. They’re very, very good.”
Every time it seemed like the Blue Devils had second-half momentum to cut the lead to one possession and make a run, a costly turnover would lead to an easy Louisville basket. Cardinal guard Donovan Mitchell—one of four Louisville players who finished in double figures—canned two late triples to help his team maintain its cushion.
Duke had a chance to get back into the game late, but Giles and Tatum missed three straight free throws and Quentin Snider drilled a 3-pointer with 1:36 left to ice the game.
The Blue Devils will have a week off before looking to bounce back when they host Miami next Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
“Any practice is helpful for us, but we have to have the right attitude coming into practice,” Capel said. “Not that we don’t, but it’s just approach it as: We have to change this. Period. We have to change it. That has to be our attitude going in. Close is not good enough, just merely fighting is not good enough and we have to change this. This week in practice will be good for us and we have to approach it the right way.”
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