Zion Williamson Leads Duke Past Louisville in Huge 2nd-Half Comeback Win

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2019

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - FEBRUARY 12:    Cam Reddish #2  of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates after the 71-69 win over the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 12, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

No. 2 Duke stormed back from a 23-point second-half deficit to shock No. 16 Louisville with a 71-69 road win.

Seth Davis @SethDavisHoops

Biggest second half comeback of Coach K's career. And he's been coaching since before the invention of fire.

Zion Williamson finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds to help key Tuesday's comeback at KFC Yum! Center.

The Blue Devils picked up the defensive intensity in the final 10 minutes and got some easy baskets off 17 Cardinals turnovers. Cam Reddish then helped seal the win with two free throws with 14 seconds remaining.

The guard also tied the game with a deep three-pointer as part of his 22-point night.

ACC Digital Network @theACCDN

Cam Reddish came up BIG TIME down the stretch for @DukeMBB! He not only drilled the game-tying shot, he also hit the game-winning free throws! ❄️💉 #HereComesDuke #CamFam (@camreddish) https://t.co/NeOI1lXE9J

This was enough for the team to earn its eighth straight win to improve to 22-2 on the year. Duke also improved to 6-0 in true road games, matching Tennessee as the only other team in college basketball undefeated on the road.

Louisville (17-8) has now lost three of its last four games during a brutal stretch despite 23 points and 12 rebounds from Jordan Nwora on Tuesday.    


Forcing Duke to Shoot Outside Still Best Path to Beat Blue Devils

Louisville fell apart down the stretch, but it wasn't because of its defense.

It was the offense that gave up easy dunks and layups after turning it over constantly against the zone press late in the second half. 

Even with the loss, the Cardinals showed the blueprint to slowing down the Blue Devils.

Duke shot 7-of-28 from beyond the arc Tuesday, as Louisville kept the offense in check for most of the night. The Blue Devils had 36 points through the first 30 minutes of action.

Williamson was able to force his way inside and get his numbers, but the Cardinals were more than willing to let him take shots from beyond the arc. He finished 1-of-4 from deep.

The defense was even more effective against RJ Barrett, keeping him out of the lane and forcing him to take jump shots. He finished 4-of-14 from the field in arguably his worst game of the season.

Those two freshmen are blessed with tremendous athleticism and the ability to finish near the rim as well as anyone in college basketball. The best way to stop them is to keep them as far from the rim as possible.

After Duke shot 13-of-21 from three-point range against then-No. 3 Virginia on Saturday, opposing coaches around the country likely felt a sense of panic. If this team can consistently knock down shots from the outside, it's nearly unstoppable.

However, it now seems as though Saturday's performance was an aberration. 

If a team can push Duke's freshmen to the perimeter and not give up easy fast-break dunks, the Blue Devils will have a difficult time winning in the half court. This could be enough to upset them.


Louisville Is Too Good to Allow Collapse to Affect Season

There is no way around it: This was a bitterly disappointing loss for Louisville.

The Cardinals appeared to be on their way to an easy win over Duke, but they collapsed down the stretch. No Louisville player had any confidence with the ball. This could've been the best win on the team's resume heading into March, but it's instead just another loss.

Losing to the No. 2 team in the country is understandable, but this one will likely sting for a while.

Matt Norlander @MattNorlander

What Louisville did tonight is honestly more shocking and inexplicable than the infamous Duke-over-Maryland deal in the final minute from 2001.

However, the first 30 minutes against the most talented squad in the country showed just how good Louisville can be when everything is clicking.

Nwora has looked like an All-ACC player all season long—at least the most improved in the league after averaging only 5.7 points per game last year—and that continued against Duke. The sophomore finished with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, 12 boards, three assists and two steals.

Although Nwora is Louisville's best offensive weapon, this team is not a one-man show. Christen Cunningham finished with 12 assists and is the type of senior leader at point guard necessary for a team to be successful in March.

Steven Enoch and Dwayne Sutton also provide additional scoring and rebounding in the frontcourt.

If Louisville shoots to its ability and cuts down on turnovers, it has more than enough talent to beat anyone in the country.

Considering its three losses in the past two weeks to Duke, at North Carolina and at Florida State were by a combined 17 points, there should still be plenty of confidence throughout the roster.

Perhaps most importantly, Chris Mack has done an outstanding job in his first year coaching the Cardinals. He has helped them play well against top opponents and has plenty of NCAA tournament experience after taking Xavier to the Sweet 16 four times in nine years.

Louisville might not be a top-three seed, but it will be a major threat to go to the Final Four this season.


What's Next?

Each team will have an easier matchup at home Saturday. Duke will host North Carolina State, while Louisville will take on Clemson.