Duke never came close to digging itself out of a sizable second-half hole Sunday evening in Indianapolis. The Blue Devils trailed by 20 or more throughout the game's latter stages, eventually losing to Louisville 85-63 in an Elite Eight showdown that failed to live up to lofty expectations.
Louisville, selected as the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, squashed Duke's offensive efforts on the way to a second straight Final Four appearance. The Cardinals outclassed Mike Krzyzewski's squad, eliminating the ACC powerhouse with authority.
The lopsided loss denied Coach K an opportunity to tie UCLA legend John Wooden with 12 Final Four visits. Instead of celebrating history, the Duke faithful are left to wonder what went so wrong Sunday night.
The Blue Devils suffered shortcomings across the board against the Cardinals. In the aftermath of a disheartening defeat, we point the finger at Duke players who failed to deliver on the season's biggest stage.
Ryan Kelly captivated college hoops fans with his triumphant early-March return from a right foot injury. After missing nearly two months, the 6'11" senior reemerged to score a career-high 36 points in 32 minutes of action against Miami.
His heroics helped the Blue Devils avenge a January loss to the Hurricanes, as Duke prevailed in Durham. Kelly converted 10-of-14 shots against Miami, burying seven three-pointers in a 79-76 win.
Flash forward to Sunday.
Kelly's final campaign as a Blue Devil fell apart at the seams during the last six weeks of the season and scored seven points on 3-of-9 shooting against Louisville.
It was the latest in a long line of clunkers that greatly limited Duke's offensive capabilities down the stretch. Kelly shot 0-of-6 in an ACC tournament loss to Maryland and managed just one point against Creighton last weekend in the round of 32.
He registered double-digit scoring totals in 15 of his first 17 games of the season, but his effectiveness deteriorated rapidly in March, culminating with his underwhelming Elite Eight performance. Kelly scored 41 total points in the Blue Devils' final six games.
Michigan State simply couldn't contain Seth Curry Friday night despite its best defensive efforts. The senior guard scored a game-high 29 points and drained six three-pointers, torching the Spartans throughout in a 71-61 win.
What a difference a weekend can make.
Louisville limited Curry to nine shot attempts and 12 points, his lowest totals in each category since a March 2 matchup with Miami. Duke's second-leading scorer was bottled up in just about every way imaginable.
Curry struggled through one of his most inefficient games of the season. His rebounding (one) and assist (0) totals against Louisville were the worst of any game this month.
There were times Sunday night when the freshman guard didn't look like he belonged on the court. Rasheed Sulaimon shot 1-of-10 from the floor and missed all four of his three-point attempts before fouling out.
Duke's youngest starter struggled mightily against Louisville on both ends of the court and tended to find himself out of position. Anytime a player's foul total (five) exceeds his point total (three), you know it was a rough day.
Sulaimon scored 37 total points against Creighton and Michigan State on the road to Sunday's matchup. Despite recent success, he never appeared comfortable in the Elite Eight showdown and his ineffectiveness crippled Duke.
Quinn Cook's offensive struggles emerged unexpectedly. The sophomore guard posted at least 12 points in seven of eight games during a late-season stretch (Feb. 13-March 9).
Following a fine regular season, Cook failed to sustain his productivity in the tournament. He scored 23 total points in four tourney games, including an ugly scoreless performance in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State.
Cook connected on only 7-of-32 field-goal attempts and may have lost a lot of trust from Duke's coaching staff heading into his junior season. He managed 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting against Louisville.