Duke storms back to down Louisville, 81-77, to set up rubber match with UNC in Brooklyn

Blue Devils get 49 points from Kennard, Tatum to battle back from 12-point second-half deficit

Brad Penner—USA Today Sports
Duke Blue Devils guard Luke Kennard (5) celebrates a three point shot in front of Louisville Cardinals guard Jay Henderson (11) during the second half of an ACC Conference Tournament game at Barclays Center.

BROOKLYN — With 13:07 remaining in the game, Duke trailed Louisville 61-49 and Luke Kennard had just six points. The ensuing 13 minutes saw Duke climb back for an 81-77 win on the back of Kennard’s 18 second-half points on 3-for-6 shooting from behind the arc.Every time Duke needed a big play, Kennard was there. He finished with a double-double at 24 points and 10 rebounds, none more important than the three free throws he hit to close out the contest with 22 seconds remaining.Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who fell to 0-2 in ACC Tournament games, was in awe of Kennard’s second-half performance.”He’s a great player. I love him. I recruited him in high school,” Pitino said. “We gave him his left hand a little bit too much tonight. … I’ve always felt he was, from an offensive standpoint, one, two, or three best players in the country because he really knows how to play the game of basketball.”Kennard wasn’t the only reason Duke stormed back to defeat Louisville, though. Jayson Tatum piggybacked off his sensational performance in Brooklyn on Wednesday with 25 points against the Cardinals. Tatum’s second consecutive game with 20 points or more marked the first time a Duke freshman did so since Jabari Parker in 2014.”This was big time for us because, obviously, we lost to them early in January,” Tatum said. “We realize that we’re a much different team from then. We went through a lot of ups and downs. We’re continuing to grow and learn and get better each and every day. So this was a big stepping stone for us.”Louisville struggled down the stretch and didn’t make a shot for the final 3:43 of the game. Deng Adel led the Cardinals with 21 points while Quentin Snyder added 15.The two teams traded leads five times in the first half as Duke overcame a seven-point deficit to take a 39-37 advantage into the halftime break. The Blue Devils shot 46 percent in the half and connected on 11 of their 14 free-throw attempts. Tatum led the way with 12 first-half points.Duke’s win Thursday afternoon was the second half of an all-N.C. afternoon in Brooklyn. It also set up another showdown for the Battle of the Blues in the Barclays Center, less than a week after UNC’s win in Chapel Hill to close out the regular season.With one team guaranteed to make the ACC Tournament final on Saturday night, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is ready for the rubber match.”We’re going to enjoy this for just a little bit before we think about [UNC],” Krzyzewski said. “The bottom line is we’re going to play two Final Four caliber teams in a row in 24 hours. I mean, Louisville and North Carolina are Final Four caliber teams. We just played them, had a great game. “If we’re fresh enough, I think it will be a great game.”