A battle of two of the ACC's best men's basketball teams went No. 11 Louisville's way as the Cardinals defeated the No. 3 Duke Blue Devils 79-73 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, on Saturday.
Freshman guard David Johnson scored a career-high 19 points off the bench for the Cardinals, who never trailed after the opening 3:03. Johnson added seven assists, three steals and two blocks.
Duke freshman guard Cassius Stanley paced his team with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Fellow freshman Matthew Hurt added 16 points for the Blue Devils.
Louisville led 25-10 in the first half, but Duke slowly crept back and even tied the game on multiple occasions in the second half.
The Cardinals retook the lead and held a 73-70 edge with 3:11 left following two Dwayne Sutton free throws. The Blue Devils had four possessions to get within one or tie the game, but they came up empty each time, and six late Louisville points sealed the win.
Louisville pulled off the upset win despite leading scorer Jordan Nwora having an off night with just six points on 3-of-12 shooting.
The Cardinals (15-3 overall, 6-1 ACC) are tied with Florida State atop the conference, while Duke (15-3, 5-2 ACC) fell to third.
Louisville has won four straight games after losing to FSU 78-65 on Jan. 4.
The Blue Devils lost their second straight game after being taken down by the Clemson Tigers 79-72 last Tuesday behind 47 combined points from Aamir Simms and Tevin Mack. The defeat marked their second loss to an unranked opponent this year after falling to Stephen F. Austin 85-83 in overtime in November.
Louisville F Jordan Nwora: 6 PTS, 8 REB
Louisville F Dwayne Sutton: 13 PTS, 5 REB
Louisville G David Johnson: 19 PTS, 7 AST
Duke C Vernon Carey Jr.: 12 PTS, 6 REB
Duke F Matthew Hurt: 16 PTS
Duke G Cassius Stanley: 24 PTS, 11 REB
David Johnson Serves as the Unlikely Louisville Hero
Johnson entered Saturday with just 48 points over 13 games. Between Nov. 29 and Jan. 11, Johnson went 10 games without scoring more than five points.
There's no doubt Johnson is a talented player capable of helping guide Louisville to a national title in a wide-open year. The 4-star recruit came to Louisville ranked 82nd in the class of 2019, per 247Sports, and 13th among combo guards.
But Saturday served as Johnson's breakout game on what might be the Cardinals' biggest national stage until March.
Seventeen of his points came in the first half alone, punctuated by this hammer dunk:
Ten of those points occurred in a 2:58 span, which helped turn an 11-6 Louisville edge into a 23-9 lead.
It was an impressive result given a left shoulder injury that he suffered in July forced him to miss the beginning of the season and kept him out until Nov. 20. Any rust that Johnson had to work through appears to be long gone, though.
Jeff Goodman of Stadium noted how much of an X-factor Johnson is when healthy:
And Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports urged fans to jump on the bandwagon now:
Johnson was forced to leave the court after suffering a left shoulder injury late in the game, but Cardinals head coach Chris Mack provided some encouraging news, per Danielle Lerner of The Athletic.
Now the question is whether Johnson will get more playing time or even enter the starting lineup. Mack addressed that as well:
In a college hoops season where no dominant team exists, the Cardinals can storm through an open door and emerge as the third ACC team to win the NCAA tournament in four years. Johnson helps make that possible, as he's the type of explosive player who could be a serious problem come March.
Cassius Stanley's Career-Best Game Can't Save Duke
Despite a tough loss, there are a few positives to take away for Duke.
For one, Duke probably isn't going to shoot 37.1 percent from the field very often the rest of the way. A 6-of-25 shooting performance from three won't be commonplace either.
Yes, the Blue Devils defense didn't fare well in allowing four Cardinals not named Nwora to score in double digits, but Duke is winning this game if it has even a mediocre night from the field.
That didn't happen, but Duke can also be encouraged by the fact that Stanley has been phenomenal of late.
He's averaged 17.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game over his last five while shooting 56.4 percent from the field.
His 24 points and 11 boards on Saturday paced all players, and his second-half dunk helped key a crucial Duke comeback to erase a 15-point deficit.
A hamstring injury suffered in late November against Winthrop is a distant memory, as are the game-time restrictions he faced following his return.
And that puts Duke in great position for March success, even if the last two games have not gone as planned.
The bottom line is that Duke is a young and developing team whose stars are freshmen. It's nothing new in the college basketball landscape, but it's possible Duke takes its lumps now and starts peaking when it really counts in the spring.
Stanley's recent outings give hope that can be the case. Of note, he earned his first double-double with 12 minutes still left in the game. That's an incredible accomplishment for any player, let alone a freshman against the No. 11 team in the country:
With Stanley and Vernon Carey Jr. leading the way, Duke has as much of a chance as any team to win the national title. The team is too talented to not contend, even if this week would imply otherwise.
Duke will stay home to face Miami on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET. Louisville will host Georgia Tech at KFC Yum Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m.