David Johnson scored all 19 of his points in the first half and added seven assists, four boards, three steals and a pair of blocks off the bench as No. 11 Louisville went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked off No. 3 Duke, 79-73.
The Cards jumped out to a 25-10 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game as Duke struggled to protect the ball. The Blue Devils slowly chipped away at the lead and got within one point with three minutes left before Louisville put the game away.
Jordan Nwora finished with just six points on 3-for-12 shooting as he dealt with Duke’s best defender in Stanley, while Dwayne Sutton took advantage of a mismatch at the four and chipped in with 13 points.
Stanley led the way for the Blue Devils with 24 points and 11 boards. Tre Jones was 5-for-16 from the floor and Vernon Carey struggled with fouls, finishing with just 12 points and six boards to go along with six turnovers.
Here are three things that we learned in Louisville’s win:
1. DAVID JOHNSON HAS ARRIVED, BUT IS HE HEALTHY?
First things first: Johnson says he’s OK. He told reporters after the game that the injury he suffered to his surgically-repaired left shoulder is nothing more than a bump or a bruise. Chris Mack was not worried about he while speaking at his postgame press conference. For those that missed it, Johnson took an awkward fall on his left shoulder with three minutes left in the game. He stayed on the ground behind the play, went to the bench with his left arm dangling by his side and headed back to the locker room before returning to Louisville’s bench for the final minutes. He did not return to the game.
So it sounds like he is going to be OK.
And that is incredibly important news for a Louisville team that has desperately been searching for a guy to do all of the things that Johnson did on Saturday night.
He finished with 19 points, but the way he scored those points is the most significant part of the equation. He broke down defenses. He dribbled right past Jordan Goldwire and drove the lane for a dunk. He created out of ball-screens. He handled Duke’s ball-pressure like he was playing against high school opponents.
This is what the Cardinals have been waiting for. It’s been a talking point all season long, and every time I have mentioned it, I have also mentioned that Louisville was just waiting to see if Johnson would ever get healthy. That staff believed he was a pro after getting him on campus, and anyone that watched him play on Saturday night would be inclined to agree.
If he can remain healthy and play somewhere close to this level for the rest of the season, then this Louisville team is much, much more dangerous.
2. THIS FELT LIKE A TURNING POINT FOR LOUISVILLE
I try to avoid the content in this space to be entirely narrative-based, but I’m not going to be able to avoid it here.
So indulge me for a minute, OK?
This game really felt like a turning point in Louisville’s season. It felt like they rid themselves of quite a few demons by going into Cameron Indoor Stadium and winning the way that they won, and the biggest reason that I say that is because of what happened last year. I’m sure every Duke and Louisville fan will remember this quite clearly: The Cardinals blew a 23 point lead at home in the final 10 minutes and lost to the Blue Devils.
This year, the game was starting to look like it might play out the same way. Louisville led by 15 points in the first half, by 10 at halftime and had a cushion of at least three possessions for what felt like the entire second half before Matthew Hurt capped off a 9-0 run by hitting three free throws to tie the game at 58. What happened? Fresh Kimble immediately answered with an and-one bucket to take the lead back. Duke tied things up against at 63, and on the next possession Kimble hit a three to, against, take the lead back. Duke made multiple runs in front of the Crazies, and Louisville had an answer every single time.
And on the road, no less.
Louisville has not been great playing away from the Yum! Center, and they have not played tough against elite competition all that often this season. It sometimes felt like they didn’t realize just how good they can be when they actually play with some heart.
That it happened in a game where they blew a lead and still won against Duke while getting elite play out of the point guard spot just feels like everything coming together.
The Cards head home to face Georgia Tech and Clemson next week.
We’ll see if that take ends up being true.
3. DUKE’S TWO MAJOR FLAWS WERE ON DISPLAY ON SATURDAY
The two biggest issues that there are on this Duke roster are that they lack someone that can truly lock up at the four, and they don’t have a go-to scorer in crunch-time if teams are going to collapse on Vernon Carey.
Hurt is who Louisville went after on Saturday night. It wasn’t Jordan Nwora, who was being guarded by Cassius Stanley for much of the night, but instead the likes of Dwayne Sutton, or Samuell Williamson, or whoever Hurt ended up guarding on a switch. The three that I mentioned Fresh Kimble hitting in that last section? That came against Matthew Hurt.
And Hurt was really good on the offensive end tonight. He finished with 16 points. He hit three threes. He had a tip-dunk. He also didn’t get a single defensive rebound, steal or block. If he added 16 points, how many was he responsible for giving up?
The other issue is one that we knew Duke was going to face this season. Tre Jones has definitely gotten better this season, and he definitely is still not a guy that you want being the player you’re calling up a play for in crunch time. Neither is Cassius Stanley, who is elite in transition and has proven himself a capable floor-spacer that can make things happen with his athleticism, but you’re not drawing up a play to get him the ball when you need a bucket against a set defense.
Carey is the answer, but between the foul trouble and the size that Louisville had inside, he was never able to get it going. And that could be a problem considering how many good teams around the country have plenty of size inside.
In a vacuum, I don’t think a road loss to Clemson and a home loss to Louisville is the kind of thing that should scare you off of thinking that the Blue Devils are the best team in the country. But a vacuum doesn’t take into account the matchup issues that those teams — who play two different styles — both exposed in Duke.
If you’re a Duke fan, getting Wendell Moore healthy and Tre Jones back to 100 percent should be your biggest priority.