When Amile Jefferson got hurt in December, Mike Krzyzewski joked that he was going to start a series entitled, ‘What the Hell is Happening the Blue Devils?’
Saturday’s 71-64 loss at Louisville had to be seen to be believed.
Both Krzyzewski and Grayson Allen picked up second-half technical fouls. Brandon Ingram had more turnovers (10) than points (eight). Allen fouled out—the technical was technically his sixth foul—and Luke Kennard had four fouls early in the second half (he would foul out with 21 seconds left, too). At one point in the second half, Derryck Thornton went back to the locker room with an injured right shoulder. Matt Jones did not play with his sprained left ankle.
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“The intensity of the physicality of the game did not lend itself to us with injuries and foul trouble. Not a good combination for us,” Krzyzewski said. “Our kids fought their hearts out.”
“My guys have been unbelievable. Not good, they've been unbelievable. And they were unbelievable in how they were warriors today. The limits were stretched today.”
Krzyzewski drew his technical during a Duke timeout with 5:04 left in the game from official Joe Lindsay. Krzyzewski was talking to him, turned to Duke’s huddle as Lindsay walked away and then turned back to Lindsay, who then assessed the foul.
When asked what he was arguing, Krzyzewski said, “You want a list?” He also said Allen’s fifth foul, a charge, “wasn’t even close.”
Despite everything working against the Blue Devils, they trailed just 66-64 with 90 seconds to play.
Thornton scored on back-to-back possessions to cut the Louisville lead to 66-64, but the Cardinals went 5-for-6 from the free throw line to close out the game while Duke missed its final five shots.
The No. 20 Blue Devils (20-7, 9-5 ACC) had been up by 13, 44-31, with 17 minutes to go in the game, and the lead was still 10 with 11:38 left. But the No. 18 Cardinals (21-6, 10-4) were already starting to wear down Duke and went on a 13-1 run to take the lead down the stretch.
“We knew they had a very difficult game against North Carolina,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. “We just wanted to keep applying the heat and wait for our run.”
Both Krzyzewski and Allen, who had a game-high 29 points on 12 shots from the field, noted the physicality of the game afterward. Krzyzewski called the second half the most physical 20 minutes the Blue Devils have played. And he credited Louisville for taking what the refs were giving.
“Look, they're going to play the game the way they're allowed to play it. And they did,” Krzyzewski said. “They played their butts off.”
Louisville took the lead for good with 6:18 left in the game. Damion Lee hit his second of three 3s to put the Cardinals ahead 56-55. All of Lee’s 3s came in a2:18 span.
As the shorthanded Blue Devils wore down, Louisville was able to force more and more turnovers with its press. Ingram struggled against it all game. He already had set a season-high for turnovers in the first half alone with six. He finished with 10, against just two assists, five rebounds and eight points on 2-for-10 shooting.
“In Brandon's case, he's still young,” Krzyzewski said. “He didn't have the game that he needed to, especially with that level of physicality. He just tried like crazy, but it couldn't happen.”
Kennard’s foul trouble and Thornton’s right shoulder injury, which occurred on a drive when he collided with Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku with about nine minutes left in the game, forced Krzyzewski to play Chase Jeter a season-high 17 minutes. Krzyzewski said afterward that he thought Jeter played “fine.” A few sentences later, he modified that to “good.”
“We only have so many guys,” Krzyzewski said. “So he did a good job, especially based on the fact that he is only prepared up to a certain level.”
The Blue Devils’ chances of victory went down tremendously when Allen was called for his fifth foul, a charge, with 5:04 left and Duke down 61-57. Allen punched the air and screamed a few choice words, drawing a technical from Lindsay.
“I just let out my emotions in a way that I shouldn't have in that kind of situation,” Allen said. “I have to control them.”
Krzyzewski didn’t fault Allen for his reaction.
“Would we like him not to have that reaction? Yes,” Krzyzewski said. “Do I understand why he had it? Yes. Yes. Yes. I mean, just take a look at it.
“Look, he has been beat up the whole season, and he is a warrior,” Krzyzewski said of Allen. “He is one of the great warriors playing college basketball. But he doesn't get what he is a warrior for at times.”
Warrior was Krzyzewski’s word of the day for all of his shorthanded Blue Devils, who have had to draw on all of their collective scrappiness and toughness to put themselves in a position to make the NCAA tournament.
“I think my team has been tough since Amile went out,” Krzyzewski said before launching into his press conference send off.
“Look, we're 9-5, 20 wins,” he said. “We're young, limited. My guys are warriors. They've been warriors the whole season. I love coaching them, I'm proud as I can be of coaching my team. It's a different Duke team than last year or (Christian) Laettner or (JJ) Redick or Grant Hill, but it's a damn good Duke team. And it's a team. And it's a team that fights like hell together. I'm proud of that.”
And it’s been must-see TV.