We learned just a few hours before tipoff that Gorgui Dieng would not play in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. The stalwart shot blocker sat on the bench with a heavy wrap on his left wrist, relic of an awkward fall on Friday night. His absence would be telling. The Blue Devils won 76-71, led by Mason Plumlee’s 16 points in the paint. The Cards tallied a grand total of one blocked shot, though it did come from Dieng’s replacement, sophomore Zach Price.
Duke’s starting lineup contributed 73 of the team’s 76 total points in the contest, with each starter in double figures. Tyler Thornton, with a single three-pointer in 17 minutes played, contributed from the pine.
Unsurprisingly, Louisville was led by the dynamic backcourt duo of Peyton Siva (19 points, 4 assists, 6 steals) and Russ Smith (17 points, 7 rebounds), but got far less production from the frontcourt than expected. Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Price combined for just 13 points total. Luke Hancock was ice-cold off the bench, missing the only shot he took. Freshman Montrezl Harrell provided a ray of hope, scoring ten points and notching the first double-figure scoring game of his college career.
Several of the tropes we used to make our preseason predictions were put to the test in this early battle of top-five teams. Gorgui Dieng is terribly important to Louisville’s success? Check. Mason Plumlee is one of the most skilled big men in the country? Check. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are one of the best backcourts in the nation? Check again.
Most importantly, Quinn Cook showed that he can, indeed, be the engine that makes the Blue Devils go. His 15 points and six assists against a stout perimeter defense were a very good sign, as was the 14 point performance of his youthful backcourt mate, Rasheed Sulaimon.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
With this win, Duke moves to 6-0, avoiding the dispiriting losses that struck fellow ACC contenders UNC and NC State in November. Their reward for defeating the nation’s No. 2 team isn’t very appetizing, however. The Devils hop on a plane in a few hours to get ready for No. 3 Ohio State on November 28th.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.