If you weren't a believer in Duke being a contender before, you should be now.
For the second time in just six games this season, Duke has taken out one of the NCAA's top three teams.
First, it was third-ranked Kentucky on November 13. Then on November 24, the Blue Devils withstood a surge from the other powerhouse from the Bluegrass State, when they took down second-ranked Louisville to win the tournament in the Bahamas and their 23rd consecutive regular-season tournament contest.
Despite leading just about the whole game against the Gorgui Dieng-less Cardinals, it was a nail-biter for Duke fans everywhere. The Blue Devils would put themselves ahead by eight to 11 points regularly, before allowing Louisville to get right back in it.
Foul trouble, along with 14 turnovers, contributed to any unease Duke fans may have been experiencing as they watched their team slug it out in Nassau.
Duke was able to utilize a balanced attack from its starting five to hold on and beat the Cardinals by a score of 76-71. With Quinn Cook, Seth Curry, Rasheed Sulaimon, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee all finishing with between 14 and 16 points, Duke was able to ensure that Louisville couldn't loosen up its defense on a struggling player and lock down on one or two guys.
Duke Player of the Game
Player of the game honors for Duke have to go to sophomore point guard Quinn Cook.
While Mason Plumlee had yet another impressive contest and was crucial in the paint for the Blue Devils, it was Cook who really stepped up and sealed the win for Duke.
After a first half where he scored just two points but was able to contribute in other ways, tallying three rebounds, four assists, one block and a steal, Cook really came on late, scoring the Blue Devils' final eight points and ending the game with 15 points, six assists and four rebounds.
Cook was also a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line and has been exceptional all weekend at breaking down full-court pressure from opponents.
He was also clutch for Duke from the field, chasing down an errant long inbound pass from Ryan Kelly and converting it into a layup, as well as hitting a big floater late in the game.
If there was a knock on Cook in the Louisville game, it was that he turned the ball over four times (though only one of those turnovers came in the second half).
Louisville Player of the Game
The Cardinals' player of the game was 6'0", 165-pound guard Russ Smith.
Much like Quinn Cook stepping up for Duke in the second half, Russ Smith was the driving force behind Louisville's comeback efforts.
Along with Peyton Siva, Smith brought the Cardinals all the way back after being down by as much as 11 points in the second half.
His never-say-die attitude helped both offensively where he engineered and led the comeback, as well as on the defensive end, where he helped force a turnover by providing help defense on Mason Plumlee.
Adding seven boards, Smith was also able to showcase his versatility.
Stats of the Game
Much like the VCU game, the stat of the game for the Battle 4 Atlantis final was free-throw shooting.
Just a day after shooting 24-for-27 from the stripe, Duke managed to get back to the line 27 times again, hitting 23 of those attempts this time around.
Meanwhile, Louisville shot a measly 9-for-14, good for just 64 percent.
With the game coming down to free throws in the latter stages, the Cardinals' missed shots cost them this game, while the Blue Devils were able to knock down the shots they needed to pull out the win.
Goats of the Game
With the good, comes the bad.
The first set of goat horns goes to the entire Duke Blue Devils bench.
The bench players managed a combined three points, seven rebounds and three assists in 31 combined minutes, while somehow managing to rack up six personal fouls between them.
Next up, we have Cardinals big man Chane Behanan.
With Louisville losing big man Gorgui Dieng for the entirety of the Duke game, it really needed Behanan to step up in a big way. Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, he was nowhere to be found.
Behanan only scored seven points and pulled in five rebounds (5.5 below what he averages on the season). He started the game by missing his first nine field goal attempts and finished shooting 2-for-11 when all was said and done.
Much of the blame for this loss will probably land on Behanan's shoulders.
The final set of goat horns goes to the officials.
Calling an absurd total of 37 fouls between the two teams, the referees inserted themselves into a game they had no business helping to decide.
What's worse is that the calls were totally lopsided, with the refs calling eight early fouls on Duke to Louisville's three in the first half and then calling seven in the early going of the second half against Louisville, to Duke's one.
Late in the game, they handed Ryan Kelly his fourth foul on an extremely questionable call where it seemed Kelly had a clean block. Kelly would foul out a few possessions later, taking away one of Duke's two effective big men.
Officials are supposed to ensure that the game is played fairly, but in this game, they took their responsibility too seriously. Many fans of both teams will have plenty of reasons to believe that the officials were working against them in one of the biggest games of the young college basketball season.
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