Duke Blue Devils come back from 23 points down to win 71-69

With Duke trailing Louisville by 23 points. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told his players they would win the game.

Whether he believed it or not didn’t matter. The Blue Devils bought in and found their energy in the final 10 minutes to mount one of their biggest comebacks ever.

Cam Reddish made a tying 3-pointer with 1:28 left and the go-ahead free throws with 14 seconds remaining. Thus helping the No. 2 Blue Devils to overcome a second-half deficit to beat the No. 16 Cardinals, 71-69.

It was an absolute stunner. A brilliant comeback. Aided by a ghastly collapse and a splurge of Cardinals turnovers provoking mounting horror in an arena that had been so joyous all night. Louisville now owns the worst giveaway for the second straight season (last year the Cardinals blew a four-point lead with a single second to play against Virginia).

It was so improbable that history was going to be made.

According to the NCAA, this was the latest anyone has ever come back from 23 down, doing it in less than half a half. This also was the biggest comeback in Krzyzewski’s career. And he’s won more games than anyone in Division I men’s history. He’s seen some stuff. But never anything like this.

“Crazy,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s a crazy game. Human beings are crazy. We were spectacular for 9½ minutes. Thankfully that was just good enough.”

On the verge of being run out of the building and into the cold Kentucky night. Duke dusted off a 2-2-1 press — in a karmic twist. The very pressure defence Denny Crum employed to help win two national titles at Louisville, including the 1986 championship game against the Blue Devils. Duke used that press to melt the Cardinals into a puddle. Forcing nine turnovers in the final 8:06.

“Their hands were everywhere,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said.

On the occasions when Louisville navigated that press and got into its offence, the Cards missed nine of their final 11 shots. Between that and the turnovers, it was like watching a building implode in slow motion.

While Louisville was carelessly frittering away possessions early in the Duke comeback. And then nervously frittering them away late. The Blue Devils were finding unlikely heroes. Backup big man Javin DeLaurier grabbed six rebounds and had two steals. Sophomore guard Jordan Goldwire, a complete afterthought in the Duke rotation, led the pressure defence with a pair of steals, a pair of assists and a pair of rebounds. Therefore he might have earned himself more playing time going forward.

And then there were those four fabulous Duke freshmen.

Point guard Tre Jones was terrible most of the night. But very effective in the press. Making timely steals and scoring key baskets while playing the full 40 minutes. R.J. Barrett didn’t have a great game. But he scored and grabbed rebounds and made key passes late. Cam Reddish, the closest thing Duke has to a reliable 3-point shooter, made all four of his threes during the comeback. He ultimately hit the winning free throws with 14 seconds remaining.

And of course, there is Zion. The 285-pound freak who has taken the college game by storm. His 27 points, 13 rebounds and three steals only tell part of the story. His competitive zeal and focused maturity under pressure tell more.

Duke took the lead for the first time since 21-20 when Tre Jones put the ball in Zion’s huge hands on the wing with the clock draining. Williamson faced up with Louisville center Malik Williams on him. A mismatch that seemingly would lead to a drive to the basket. Instead, after probing for a couple of seconds, Williamson turned and passed to Reddish for a drive to the basket that resulted in the winning free throws.

When it was over, the Duke celebration was raucous amid the stricken arena. Players threw their bodies into one another. Before bounding off to the locker room. Williamson was the last one on the court. Then he bounced towards a large number of Duke fans clustered by the tunnel leading off the arena floor.

After explaining how the team came back to win, Krzyzewski was also asked about sexual assault allegations against a former Blue Devils player.

Krzyzewski says he has “no knowledge” of a woman’s allegation that she was sexually assaulted by a former player and said he believes the school should and will investigate.



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