LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- With Louisville's basketball team desperately needing a victory to stop a slide from growing even worse, the Cardinals delivered in a high-intensity thriller that was NCAA Tournament-worthy, defeating Duke 70-65 Saturday afternoon in the KFC Yum! Center.
UofL (10-3, 5-2 ACC) snapped a two-game losing streak and handed Duke (5-5, 3-3) its first three-game skid since 2016 with its second victory in a row over the Devils. That helped eliminate the sour taste of Tuesday's 78-65 drubbing by Florida State. The 65 points were Duke's fewest of the season.
"It's hard, you lose a couple games in a row, they want to win, their habits aren't where they need to be yet but for them to have the resiliency and fight to come out against Duke and get the win we're excited and we'll take it." UofL coach Chris Mack said. "This is a high-level league and nobody has more high level players than Duke, albeit young kids. So it's a big win for our team. But it wouldn't have been the end of the world had we lost because I really liked our fight. We weren't playing for another seven days and that's a long time in college basketball to sit on an L, so happy we were fortunate enough to be on the winning side."
Hand the MVP honors to the Cards' splendid backcourt duo of Carlik Jones and David Johnson. Jones for his offensive show and Johnson for his gritty defensive effort.
Jones scored 19 of his game-high-tying 24 points in the second half, including the clinching free throws and 11 of his team's last 13 points. He also had five assists. Johnson was called on to contain Duke's leading scorer, forward Matthew Hurt, and probably succeeded beyond his coach's expectations. Both Cards played all 40 minutes.
In the first half, Hurt scored 15 points, hitting 6-of-8 shots, including all three of his 3-pointers. After he scored on a move underneath 17 seconds into the second half, drawing Quinn Slazinksi's third foul, Mack decided it was time for a change. He and his staff talked it over. Who should they put on Hurt? Dre Davis? Sam Williamson? They settled on Johnson and it proved to be a fortuitous move.
Despite giving away four inches and 25 pounds to the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Hurt, Johnson was up to the challenge. Hurt managed only four points in the final 18 minutes, on two free throws and a difficult mid-range jumper, before fouling out with 1:50 remaining.
"David Johnson's defense on Matthew Hurt was exceptional," Mack said. "I don't know how many times he touched the ball in the post, but it couldn't have been more than one or two in the last 15 minutes or so. He's a special offensive player. After some of those step-backs he hit in the first half, coaches were asking who we should put on him. I said, with the shots he's hitting it doesn't matter who we put on him. "
Turned out it did. "David's defense was huge," Mack said.
"David has heart," Jones said. "Size doesn't really matter. He harassed Hurt and made him work for everything. The one shot he hit was insane. David showed a lot of toughness and heart, and we felt with David on him he wouldn't be able to win the game for them."
Johnson isn't known for his defense, but he may be in the future.
"Hurt was killing us when he caught the ball close to the basket, so I was working my butt off to make sure he didn't touch the ball was a pretty big key," said the Trinity High School product. "Coach putting me on him I knew I had to really step it up. Half of their points in first half came from him. When things like that happen you've got to be ready, on your horse, and tonight was one of those nights."
How did Johnson do it? He made it sound simple.
"You've got to stay low in a stance and be ready and aware," he said. "He could have caught the ball at any point on the court, so just staying alert and matching his intensity was a really big key."
The game was hard-fought all the way, with neither team gaining a significant edge. There were nine lead changes and four ties. Louisville's largest lead was six points, Duke's was three points.
Duke was leading 63-62 with 2:07 left when Jones took over, repeatedly driving through the Blue Devils' defense to score on a layup or draw fouls. He scored Uof's remaining eight points, hitting all six of his free throws, including the clincher with 5.4 seconds remaining. One of his drives fouled Hurt out of the game.
"It was like, alright, it's time for me to do everything I can to make sure we come out with a win," Jones said. "I was going to be aggressive and go at them and maybe get a layup or at least get fouled. I have confidence in myself and I truly appreciate the confidence Coach Mack has keeping me on the floor with the ball in my hands."
"It's really comforting to have a guy like Carlik who can make plays down the stretch," Mack said.
Even after Jones' free throws, though, the Cards had to survive some anxious moments after a timeout by Mack to make sure his players were all on the same page and knew what to do defensively. Still, DJ Steward got a wide open look at the top of the key.
"I'm very thankful he missed," Mack said.
Due to his defense on Hurt, Johnson's other contributions were overshadowed, but they were many -- 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals with just two turnovers. Jae'Lyn Withers added 13 points and seven rebounds and Davis had 11 points.
Hurt wound up with 24 points. Steward was the only other Duke player in double figures with 13.
"This was a very important win," Jones said. "It lets our team know what we're capable of, gets the monkey off our back from the two losses and shows we're still a good team."
UofL will now have a week off before hosting Boston College next Saturday if the Eagles' current pause for COVID-related issues is over. The Cards won at BC 76-64 on Jan. 2.
SATTERFIELD LOSES ANOTHER ASSISTANT
Head coach Scott Satterfield's Louisville football staff is going to have an extensive new look next season.
In the past week or so, Satterfield has lost three offensive coaches, beginning with running backs coach Norval McKenzie, who took a similar position at Vanderbilt, his alma mater. Then quarterbacks coach Frank Ponce left to become the offensive coordinator at Appalachian State.
The most recent departure came on Friday when offensive line coach/co-offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford, who earlier was reported as a finalist for the head coaching position at Marshall, was hired as the offensive line coach for the NFL Atlanta Falcons.
That leaves wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer as the lone holdover offensive position coach.
With spring practice set to open next month, Satterfield moved quickly to fill the first two open positions. Earlier this week, De'Rail Sims was named running backs coach and Friday he promoted quality control coach Pete Thomas to quarterbacks coach.
Thomas, who played quarterback at NC State and Louisiana Monroe, worked under Ledford with the offensive line this past season and drew his praise.
"I think he could coach multiple positions on the offensive side," Ledford said of Thomas. "Somebody is going to get a great coach. When you are around some people you feel like they're going to have a great future and Pete is phenomenal at everything he does."
When Satterfield left App State to take the Louisville job at the end of the 2018 season, Thomas served as interim quarterbacks coach for the Mountaineers' 45-13 win over Middle Tennessee in the New Orleans Bowl. He joined Satterfield at UofL in January of 2019.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.