DURHAM, N.C. – Louisville's big lead was all but gone, leaving the 11th-ranked Cardinals clinging to a slim margin while the fans packed into Duke's famously hostile home arena were roaring at ear-ringing levels.
Chris Mack's squad proved they were tough enough to punch back in those critical moments to secure a huge win against a fellow Atlantic Coast Conference heavyweight.
Freshman David Johnson had a season-high 19 points and the Cardinals hung on down the stretch to beat No. 3 Duke 79-73 on Saturday night, winning a key matchup in the league's regular-season title chase.
“We never got rattled," said Malik Williams, who had 12 points and a couple of big late-game plays. “Things got tough for us, they tied the game, we kept playing, kept fighting.”
“Fighting” is probably a good word for it, too. It was a physical game with plenty of players bumping each other to the floor and powering into the paint through contact, one that left Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski calling it “the most physical game we’ve been involved with in years, really.”
“The term of freedom of movement was not alive and well tonight,” Krzyzewski said, adding: “They played great, I don't want it to take away from them.”
The Cardinals — who improbably blew a 23-point lead in the final 10 minutes of a home loss to Duke last year — hung on despite finding themselves in a tight finish after leading by 15 in the first half and 10 at halftime.
Leading 71-70, Louisville (15-3, 6-1 ACC) got two free throws from Dwayne Sutton with 3:11 remaining and then got five consecutive defensive stops during the critical game-clinching sequence. That included a missed drive and an airballed 3-pointer from Duke freshman Cassius Stanley, who was otherwise was the best player on the floor for either team on the way to season highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds.