Chane Behanan started to walk up the court, then he looked, and he saw. He spun away. He fell to his knees in horror.
He saw what everyone saw: His close friend and teammate Kevin Ware’s shinbone sticking out of his right leg after he tried to get in the way of a Tyler Thornton jumper and landed awkwardly in front of the Louisville bench.
Behanan leaned forward, resting his forehead in the lane. Several Louisville players were openly weeping, as was Louisville coach Rick Pitino as he talked briefly with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Someone was going to the Final Four, but no one would forget what happened along the way.
“I was running back on defense and I just saw his leg in the air,” said Thornton, the Duke guard. “I hate looking at stuff like that. My heart just dropped when I saw it. Prayers go out to him and his family. I hope he gets well.”
Superficially, the Louisville players sprawled on the court in disbelief and agony resembled the Butler players in this same building after Gordon Hayward’s heave rimmed out, yet they were dealing with an entirely different set of emotions.
What do you do? What can you do? If you’re Louisville, you play on. You play on for Kevin Ware.
“The bone’s sticking out of his leg,” Pitino said afterward, “and all he’s saying is ‘Win the game.’ ”
Duke may not have beaten Louisville on Sunday anyway, but the Blue Devils had no chance against the resilience the Cardinals showed after Ware was hurt. It would have been so easy for Louisville to withdraw from the game, if not collapse. Instead, the Cardinals came out for the second half completely and totally the aggressors on their way to an 85-63 win.
Duke, no less tenacious, hung with the Cardinals during a first half that wasn’t played in a manner that favored the Blue Devils, but the second half turned on a 17-2 Louisville run that started with the score tied 42-42 after a Mason Plumlee bucket.
Just as Krzyzewski came up with a plan to take away Michigan State’s big men on Friday, Pitino had a game plan to take away Curry and Kelly on Sunday in a weekend that turned into a master class in basketball coaching with those two and Tom Izzo and Dana Altman.
The Cardinals tweaked their offense, after a suggestion by one of Pitino’s sons, to make it harder for Plumlee and Kelly to defend their pick-and-rolls, then tweaked it again at halftime to open up more space for speedy guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva after Duke effectively steered them wide in the first half.
“They were living in our paint,” Seth Curry said.
On defense, they used what Pitino called a “complicated,” scheme on Curry, one Curry said he hadn’t seen all season and resembled a box-and-one. After Curry hit two 3-pointers early in the second half, Pitino put reserve Luke Hancock on him, a player not known for his defense. Curry had four points and one basket the rest of the way.
At the end, with victory assured, Behanan pulled on Ware’s No. 5 jersey. Ware is from Atlanta, and that’s where the Cardinals are headed.
“If we let up for a second, then Kevin Ware doesn’t know what he means to us,” Pitino said he told his team at halftime. “We’re going to dig in. We’re going to play this game to the end. We’ll get him back home, nurse him to good health, and we’re going to get him to Atlanta.”
Duke was going to have a hard time beating Louisville under any circumstances. Under these circumstances, the Blue Devils were up against an unstoppable force. The Cardinals, wounded and worried, would not be denied.