Well, being an obsessive observer of all matters hoops — I’m an unrecovering hoopaholic, you know — and enjoying every Duke L as much as the next fellow, I have observed the habits.
When Duke wins, he’s head up, and patronizingly pats the losing players on their chest as he offers his commiserations. When Duke falls, he’s head down, perfunctory handshakes followed by a strident scurry to the locker room.
Did we savor the latter Saturday evening after Louisville won at Cameron Indoor for the first time since the ’83 Final Four squad schooled Jay Bilas and his cohorts, 91-76, or what?
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There are any number of blissful storylines to this huge Cardinal victory, its third in a row during a telling week on the road in the ACC.
The Cardinals’ Killer D.
A Star is born on the most improbable stage.
All those mournful , quieted Crazies who had to trundle back to their dorms in the chill, and then spend Saturday night cleaning off the blue greasepaint.
But I want to start with U of L’s “other” PG Star of the win.
When it mattered, I mean really mattered, Fresh Kimble was Philly Tough.
U of L grabbed the lead at 7-5 with 16:53 to play in the 1st. They led by 15 at 25-10, and by ten at the break following a Malik Wiliams three at the halftime buzzer.
Louisville opened the 2d yet again in their now trademark-approved Horrible Start to the 2d™ mode. They were -6 for the stanza, when Chris Mack was forced to call a stoppage at 17:26 to settle things down.
Which he and his troops did, thereby keeping the Ken Pomeroy #1 Blue Devils at bay for most of the half. Precariously.
Until the 8:51 mark, that is, when Matthew Hurt’s three FTs in one trip to the line knotted it at 58.
At which point, I jotted in the margin of my notes, Mr. Bunny’s Aphorism #1: “DO NOT RELINQUISH THE LEAD” (Yes I used all caps.)
On the ensuing Louisville possession, Kimble took charge, tallied from the lane and converted the +1. Old Fashioned. 61-58.
The Cards stemmed the tide, pushing ahead five. But not for long.
At 6:29, a Tre Jones triple again pulled the Dookies level at 63.
Again, it was Kimble who heeded Mr. B’s admonition. This time with a New Fashioned threeball. 66-63.
Louisville, steady, steely, never allowed Duke to tie it again. For the third W in a row, the Cardinals finished in enemy territory.
Kimble wound up with 3 rebounds, 3 assists, some stellar D and 8 points, 6 of which were the hugest of the battle.
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As if you didn’t notice, he was not the only Cardinal PG who came up, as we say, BIGLEY.
The Red & Black Faithful have with some impatience been waiting to see what the David Johnson hype was all about. Well, kids, just run the tape of Saturday’s first half.
On a court, dotted with Golden Arches All-Americans, none of whom are named David Johnson, the Trinity HS grad simply took over. In Cameron Indoor. During Saturday Night Showcase. In front of Dan and Jay and Holly and the Game Day crew. And the hoops nation.
In the 1st, DJ had 17 on 7/8 shooting. 3 rebounds. 4 assists. 2 blocks. A steal. A single turnover. In the 2d, he only scored a deuce, though it was a big one, a slam on a furious drive down the lane to push the Cards ahead 71-65.
He also garnered three more assists, a couple more steals and used his length to defensive advantage.
He also left the game in pain, but Chris Mack indicated afterward, they do not think his injury is of consequence.
DJ, welcome to the panoply of Cardinal Lore.
What a Coming Out party, that was.
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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other two Cardinals in the backcourt.
Darius Perry’s stat line is nothing special.
But remember that incredibly important shut down start the Cards had, where they forced 10 Duke turnovers in the first 8:00? Perry was one of, if not the main instigator.
And Ryan McMahon had what appears on its face as a relatively quiet night.
But with the Cards wobbling, their lead cut to a penny at 66-65, McMahon calmly found nylon from behind the arc on a clever inbounds set, providing comforting cushion.
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That Malik Williams exclamation point bomb at the halftime buzzer was probably a harbinger that it would be the Cardinals’ night. Though it took twenty seriously anxious game clock minutes to realize then savor it.
His two FTs at :16 sealed the deal. He finished with 12 points, 7 boards. His defense was the major reason Vernon Carey wasn’t a significant factor in the game.
His breakaway dunk with :07 after a Fresh steal was the cherry on the sundae.
Dwayne Sutton just played like Dwayne Sutton. 13 points, 5 rebounds.
And if Malik’s slam was the cherry, Dwayne’s two FTs for the Cards’ final points were the sprinkles. And nuts.
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Other stuff observed:
Without getting much from leading scorer Jordan Nwora, U of L proved it could beat a big time Top 5 foe, one just about unbeatable on its home court no less, at their place, in a game to stay atop conference standings.
How good have Coach K’s Blue Devils been at home? Geez, I thought you’d never ask. Coming into Saturday night’s defeat, they were 542-67. Which works out to only .597 home Ls a season under Krzyzewski.
At the 3:49 timeout, when U of L led 71-65, Duke was +12 at the charity stripe. 20/26 vs. the Cards 8/11. Louisville went 6/6 the rest of the way. Sutton hit four; Williams two. While Duke took and hit its only attempt.
Louisville’s reserves outscored Duke’s, 39-5.
Louisville won the battle in the paint, 44-30.
Louisville played tough and strong at the defensive end. While stats can’t really tell that tale, they are somewhat revelatory. In league play, the Blue Devils coming in were hitting 52% from the field, 41% from beyond the arc. Louisville held them to 37% (23/62) from the field, and 24% (6/25) long range.
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My two favorite Chris Mack quotes of the evening both referenced last year’s infamous meltdown at home.
He ended his halftime quickie interview with Holly Rowe, by joking about blowing a lead to Duke. Well played, coach.
Post game: “That sucked a year ago. Worst defeat I’ve ever had. . . . It was a really, really hard loss.”
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When Duke tied the brouhaha at 58, Jay Bilas — who knows something about losing to Louisville, having done it twice, once at home, once in Dallas — said, “It’s become a matter of poise for Louisville.”
Astutely opined, that.
In the end, the Cards, who showed plenty on the hardwood down the stretch and finished as 79-73 victors, needed to show none at all while gleefully savoring the win.
While grim-faced Mike Krzysewski trudged to his locker room, with nary a post game chest pat on his stat line.
— c d kaplan