Donovan Mitchell went down on the Yum Center court in a heap, and he didn’t get up.
At least, not right away.
Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said afterward that he was unconcerned at the sight of his leading scorer lingering on the floor and clutching his ankle in pain.
“I think he just tried to stop me yelling at him for falling down,” he said.
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A reporter followed up by asking if the coach was impressed that Mitchell returned to the game and led the Cards to a 78-69 victory over No. 7 Duke with his big shots down the stretch.
“Well, he wasn’t hurt,” Pitino deadpanned.
His audience laughed and, after allowing a little more time for the joke to settle, Pitino acknowledged that Mitchell did, in fact, tweak his ankle on the play.
The sophomore guard was back on the court one minute and four seconds later, however, and he finished with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and two three-pointers to give the No. 14 Cardinals a major victory in league play.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s a gamer,” Pitino said. “He’s a terrific basketball player, and he’s a lot of fun to coach.”
After junior forward Anas Mahmoud put up career-high numbers in the first half, it was Mitchell’s turn to lead the Cards at the end.
He scored 10 points in a span of less than four minutes late in the game, answering every Duke free throw or basket with a score of his own. His last two makes were three-pointers, the second coming with 4:03 left to give Louisville a 69-60 lead and get the Yum Center rocking.
The Blue Devils never seriously threatened again.
“The second one — to be honest — I didn’t even think about it,” Mitchell said. “I just let it go. And that’s what Coach is talking about, ‘Don’t think about it. Take the shot.’ It’s one of those things where it’s just unconscious. You just shoot it and let it fly. If you miss, you miss.
“I think that’s what happens when you take big shots in big moments. You gotta have no conscience at all.”
Junior guard Quentin Snider, who had 13 points and six assists, delivered the dagger a few minutes later, hitting a three-pointer to put the Cards up 10 with 1:36 remaining.
Pitino hadn’t even settled at the postgame podium before praising his players for getting 25 deflections in the second half. The Cards forced 18 Duke turnovers and held the Blue Devils to just five three-point field goals on 12 attempts, both season-lows for the visitors.
“I thought our guys fought, but we didn’t have the poise necessary to beat a good team on their court,” said Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel. “They just 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.”
Both coaches lauded the play of Mahmoud, who had career highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds, doing most of his damage in the first half.
Duke was without leading rebounder Amile Jefferson, who missed his second straight game due to injury. Grayson Allen led the way with 23 points and Luke Kennard chipped in 17, but the growing pains continue for the Blue Devils’ ballyhooed freshmen.
Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden — the trio of five-star players who were heavily recruited by Kentucky — all missed the start of the season with injuries.
Tatum, playing in his 10th game, scored 11 points but was 3-for-11 from the floor. Giles, playing in his seventh game, had seven points and six rebounds. Bolden, who has played double-digit minutes only three times this season, played just five minutes Saturday with zero points and zero rebounds.
“They’re still not up to speed,” Capel said. “When you miss as much time, especially Harry — I’m not sure he will be up to speed for us this year — it’s just trying to get them better each day.”
Clemson at Louisville
9 p.m. Thursday (ESPN)