To borrow a phrase favored by their head coach, the precious present is all they have. When you are the Louisville Cardinals and there is no postseason in your future, your future is now.
“We don’t have a lot (to look forward to),” admitted head coach Rick Pitino on Saturday.
So you have to make the most of what time you have left, which is exactly what the 18th-ranked Cardinals did at the Yum! Center, rallying from a 13-point deficit early in the second half to wear down pencil-thin Duke and better the Blue Devils 71-64.
“We just had a night when we wouldn’t quit,” Pitino said.
Playing with a finger he dislocated in warm-ups, senior guard Damion Lee scored 24 points, Chinanu Onuaku scored 10 points to go with 11 rebounds and Louisville’s defense forced Duke star Brandon Ingram into 10 turnovers as the Cardinals improved to 10-4 in the ACC while dropping Duke to 9-5.
That puts Pitino’s club a game behind North Carolina (11-3), which mauled Miami 96-71 on Saturday, in the conference standings. Miami and Virginia are also 10-4 with four games remaining before the ACC Tournament.
For Louisville, there will be no ACC Tournament. There will be no NCAA Tournament. The school is sitting out the postseason as a joint internal and NCAA investigation continues into the so-called “Stripper Scandal” alleging past U of L players and recruits received improper entertainment benefits.
Meanwhile, Duke arrived on a five-game win streak, fresh off a comeback 74-73 win at North Carolina, looking very much like a team that may have a bright tournament future.
One problem, though. Already a team that usually played no more than seven or eight players, Duke lost starting guard Matt Jones to a sprained ankle. Jones warmed up Saturday, but once the game clock started, the 6-foot-5 junior remained on the bench. And for the better part of 30 minutes, Duke didn’t really need him because it had Grayson Allen.
The hard-nosed sophomore scored 19 points in the first half as Duke led 37-29 at the break. Then in the second half, freshman Luke Kennard nailed a three to put Duke up 44-31 with 17:10 left. And when senior center Marshall Plumlee dunked home a long in-bounds pass over the Louisville press, Duke led 54-45 with 10:26 remaining.
More than eight minutes elapsed before Duke made another field goal, however. Point guard Derryck Thornton landed hard on his shoulder at 9:05, leaving the Blue Devils with basically five players. As Louisville surged ahead, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was tagged with a technical at the 5:04 mark. Asked in the post-game press conference what he was protesting, Coach K answered, “You want a list?”
With 3:55 left, Allen picked up his fifth foul and one to grow on (a technical) when he protested. He finished with 29 points and six fouls.
Lee made just one of the two technical free throws, but it didn’t really matter. Louisville led 66-59. Thornton returned to (finally) hit a couple of shots, but by that time the Devils were gassed, especially Ingram. After scoring Duke’s first two baskets, the talented freshman made just one more shot.
“We jammed him as much as we could,” Pitino said, adding, “Ingram reminds me so much of Kevin Durant. That’s about as high a compliment as he can possibly get.”
Here’s a high compliment for Louisville: The Cards haven’t quit. Even after the unexpected self-imposed postseason ban, they haven’t quit. Even when they took back-to-back road losses at Duke and Notre Dame, they haven’t quit, handling Syracuse at home on Wednesday, then avenging the Duke defeat with a rousing rally in front of the home folks.
“They played their butts off,” Krzyzewski said afterward. “To their credit with their season, not being able to go to the postseason, I admire the effort and their tenacity and all that stuff.”
“I keep using the expression, ‘Don’t get bitter, get better,’” Pitino said. “Bitter gets you nothing but anxiety. Better, you look forward to next year and you appreciate the two seniors (Lee and Trey Lewis) we have.”
There’s still four more games left. Louisville hasn’t quit yet.
No. 18 LOUISVILLE 71,
No. 20 DUKE 64
DUKE (20-7): Allen 8-12 8-9 29, Kennard 3-10 2-4 9, Thornton 3-9 0-0 7, Ingram 3-10 0-1 8, Plumlee 3-5 0-1 6, Jeter 1-1 3-3 5, Pagliuca 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-47 13-18 64.
LOUISVILLE (21-6): Lee 8-17 5-8 24, Snider 1-3 0-0 3, Johnson 2-5 2-2 6, Adel 5-7 1-2 12, Onuaku 5-7 0-2 10, Lewis 4-12 0-2 8, Stockman 0-0 0-0 0, Henderson 0-0 0-0 0, Spalding 3-3 1-2 8, Mitchell 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 28-56 9-18 71.
Halftime—Duke 37-29. Three-point goals—Duke 9-20 (Allen 5-8, Ingram 2-5, Thornton 1-2, Kennard 1-5), Louisville 6-17 (Lee 3-7, Spalding 1-1, Snider 1-2, Adel 1-2, Mitchell 0-2, Lewis 0-3). Fouled out—Allen, Kennard. Rebounds—Duke 29 (Plumlee 14), Louisville 31 (Onuaku 11). Assists—Duke 11 (Allen, Kennard 3), Louisville 17 (Lewis 5). Total fouls—Duke 18, Louisville 21. Technicals—Allen, Johnson. A—22,785.
Louisville at Pittsburgh
8 p.m. Wednesday