In one of the most impressive performances of its season, Duke stayed alive in the ACC Tournament in a 70-56 win over Louisville Wednesday. Thanks to the two-headed monster of Mark Williams and Matthew Hurt, the Blue Devils now face Florida State in the quarterfinals in less than 24 hours. With that, the Blue Zone is here to recap the action against the Cardinals in just one word:
One Word: Maturation
Tonight’s game was encouraging for the Blue Devils, as big men Mark Williams and Matthew Hurt accounted for 43 of the team’s 70 points. Over the course of the year, Hurt has developed into the leader of the team. The sophomore has been the most consistent veteran producer, and kept it going with another solid performance in Greensboro. Williams, on the other hand, had the best game of his collegiate career, indicating that the freshman is finally coming into his own as a college basketball player.
Though the top of the roster impressed, it’s important to look at the entire team’s performance. Most notably, the bench failed to score a single point despite launching seven shots. In each of the previous two matchups against Louisville this season, Hurt fouled out. Knowing the reality of Hurt’s foul trouble, Duke must find ways to win that do not completely depend upon its best player.
Having Williams on the inside to support Hurt on defense has been helpful, but it remains to be seen if this big duo can sustainably win games for Duke when they each continue to foul at such a high rate. The most concerning portion of the game came near the end of the first half. Williams headed to the bench with 3:42 left in the half and the Blue Devils, up 27-13, proceeded to concede 16 consecutive points, erasing their established dominance of the early portion of the game. The game’s trajectory swiftly shifted back towards Duke after the halftime break, but such a lapse offensively and defensively in the absence of one key player is worrisome.
Playing five games in five days is no small task, and having four players over 30 minutes tonight might come back to bite the Blue Devils tomorrow or later in the week. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski understands that each game this week is do-or-die for his team's March Madness at-large bid, and his strategies have fared well thus far. That said, Duke still needs more depth for the rest of the ACC Tournament. Tomorrow, they’ll face a well-rested, two-seeded Florida State team—a tough matchup, but even tougher when the Blue Devils are without fresh legs.
One Player: Mark Williams
At 7-feet, Williams had his way with the smaller Louisville lineup. With no starter over 6-foot-8, the Cardinals struggled to contain the big man as he cruised to team-highs of 23 points and 19 rebounds. Duke struggled a bit in the month of February following the insertion of Williams into the starting lineup, but it seems like the change is finally starting to pay off as the freshman is bullying smaller defenders in the paint of late. He’s notched double digit point totals in five of the last six games, and looks to be a bona fide post threat in Krzyzewski’s offense.
One Stat: +4 Rebounding Advantage
Though Williams masterfully executed on the boards tonight, the extra shots generated from the entire team’s rebounds are a bit overvalued. Duke allowed 14 offensive rebounds to Louisville, and those second chances could prove deadly as it progresses to more sizable opponents down the road. There’s reason for optimism, however, as Louisville is the third-best rebounding team in the conference. If the Blue Devils can outrebound the Cardinal;s, there’s a good chance they can outrebound the rest of their opponents. Florida State ranks fourth in rebounds per game with 37.4, so tomorrow will be quite the challenge for Duke on the interior.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.