The best game of Matthew Hurt’s career wasn’t enough.
Somehow, Hurt’s career-high 37 points didn’t end in a Duke victory in Saturday night's overtime thriller. A Louisville team led by superior perimeter play and relentless offensive rebounding escaped Cameron Indoor Stadium with an 80-73 win in a game that carried serious implications for a coveted at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
"Matt had a sensational game. Matt was unbelievable," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "[Louisville's] perimeter just knocked our young guards back. [Duke's guards] did not have the games that they've had over the last couple weeks tonight.... So hopefully we get better and learn from it."
A pair of DJ Steward free throws with 2:06 remaining in regulation cut Louisville’s lead to 62-61, setting up a thrilling finish to the game that quickly became the Carlik Jones, Hurt and Wendell Moore Jr. show. On the ensuing Cardinal possession, Jones got to the basket and made it a 64-61 game, but Moore quickly responded with two more free throws to again cut Duke’s deficit to one. After a Jones miss, Moore again got to the line off a pump-fake, putting the Blue Devils ahead 65-64. Jones responded with a free throw of his own to tie the game, but missed a jumper as time expired, sending it to overtime.
In overtime, Louisville jumped out to a quick five-point lead thanks to a Quinn Slazinski 3-pointer and a Jones lay-in. Hurt responded with a basket of his own, but Jones and the Cardinals built a six-point lead with 1:13 remaining. Moore’s resilience inside continued, as he finished strong for an and-one layup to bring the score to 74-71. Jones scored yet again with 36 seconds remaining, however, which proved to be the fatal blow.
Hurt’s Blue Devils trailed for nearly the entire game, and many of Hurt's teammates struggled against Louisville’s suffocating defense, but the ACC Player of the Year candidate would simply not relent, single-handedly keeping Duke competitive (11-9, 9-7 in the ACC).
After trailing by as much as 12 early in the second half, Hurt willed his team back into the game, as the Cardinals simply had no answer for the sharpshooting forward. With 8:26 left remaining and Louisville (13-5, 8-4) leading 52-47, Hurt hauled in an offensive rebound, finishing through contact and hitting a free throw to make it 52-50. On the other end of the floor, he blocked Jones’ layup attempt, then knocked down a 3-pointer to give Duke its first lead since early in the first half.
The opening period was marked by a slow pace, with the Cardinals ending the period with a 36-26 lead—Duke’s 26-point output was its lowest total in any half this season. Remarkably, Hurt scored 16 of Duke’s 26 first-half points. The Minnesota native's offensive excellence was the primary reason the Blue Devils stuck around, and the sophomore forward has now scored 15 or more points in five straight games.
No matter how lethal Hurt is, it’s nearly impossible to stay competitive when one player is responsible for over 60% of your offensive production. The Cardinal guards simply outclassed the Blue Devil backcourt on both ends of the floor. In the first half, Duke’s guard trio of Jordan Goldwire, Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward combined for one point on a dreadful 0-for-8 from the floor. Meanwhile, Louisville’s starting backcourt of Jones and David Johnson picked up nine points apiece in the opening 20 minutes.
"I thought [Louisville] dominated the first half," Krzyzewski said. "Their athleticism and maturity knocked us back."
But the Blue Devils came out of the locker room looking like a new team. With 16 minutes remaining, the previously hibernating Steward shook out of his slumber. The Chicago native leapt to make an acrobatic steal off of a Johnson pass and took it the length of the floor, converting on a heavily contested layup and cutting Duke's deficit to 40-35.
Steward hit his first 3-pointer of the contest a minute later, and a Jaemyn Brakefield and-one brought the Blue Devils to within one, the closest margin since it was tied at 17 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. And after Hurt's sequence three minutes later finally gave Duke the lead, it went back and forth the rest of the way.
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Though many arenas across North Carolina welcomed back fans for the first time this weekend due to loosening COVID-19 restrictions, Cameron Indoor Stadium remained limited to essential personnel Saturday evening. That meant an eerily quiet Senior Night—seniors Mike Buckmire and Goldwire were not greeted with hugs from their families and raucous cheering from the Cameron Crazies, but played in front of the same tapestry that has covered the student section for the last three months.
Hurt's father, Richard Hurt, tweeted Saturday night that Krzyzewski talked with Duke administration about allowing families to attend the Louisville game given the new state guidelines.
"We support what [University President Vincent Price] and our administration does," Krzyzewski said postgame. "That doesn't mean we didn't talk to [Director of Athletics] Kevin White, and push that up just to check to see if there was something that we're going to do different... I'm going to do what our administration says and they've done a great job of handling things so kids can get an education here. A minimal amount of people have contracted the virus compared to other places. So, I applaud them for that. And obviously, we'd like to have fans, would like to have parents, but I do not fault our administration in that regard."
The Blue Devils will face a pair of tough road tests to conclude the regular season next week, as they will head to Atlanta Tuesday to take on Georgia Tech and take a short bus ride to Chapel Hill for a matchup against North Carolina next Saturday.