Depleted Duke can't overcome smothering Louisville pressure

For 30 minutes Saturday, it looked like No. 20 Duke might actually pull off a fourth consecutive victory over a ranked opponent at No. 18 Louisville, despite a badly depleted roster, even more injuries and foul trouble.

But Louisville turned up its pressure defense the length of the court and the Blue Devils struggled to bring the ball up the floor and had an even more difficult time finding open shots and getting them to fall. Duke went more than eight minutes without a field goal, scoring only from the foul line in that stretch, and lost 71-64.

The fact that it was even that close was a testament to how hard Duke’s healthy players played and their ability to knock down nine 3-pointers, seven in the first half.

Duke's Brandon Ingram (14) attempts to drive past the defense of Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 in Louisville Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Duke's Brandon Ingram (14) attempts to drive past the defense of Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 in Louisville Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

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Duke entered Saturday on a five-game winning streak, including a victory over the Cardinals in Durham as well as wins over Virginia and North Carolina. The streak is made even more impressive because the Blue Devils have been playing predominantly with seven players. That group was trimmed by one when Matt Jones suffered a badly sprained ankle against the Tar Heels and wasn’t able to play against Louisville.

But the limited roster and Louisville’s pressure defense didn’t seem to affect the Blue Devils early in the game. Duke hit seven of 12 3-pointers in the first half and guard Grayson Allen scored 19 points as the Blue Devils took a 37-29 halftime lead.

Allen seemed like he might carry Duke to victory with Brandon Ingram struggling through a rough outing in which scored only eight points and committed 10 turnovers.

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Allen seemed like he might carry Duke to victory with Brandon Ingram struggling through a rough outing in which scored only eight points and committed 10 turnovers.

Allen dived for ball and wrestled for it with Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson, who hit Allen in the face with what appeared to be an inadvertent elbow as he was pulling on the ball. Officials reviewed the play and issued a technical foul on Johnson.

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Officials already were mindful of an incident in the first game between these teams in which Allen intentionally tripped a Louisville player and was whistled for a flagrant foul.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino recognized Duke wasn’t going to be able to withstand pressure with Allen and Luke Kennard already battling foul trouble and he turned it up midway through the second half.

Louisville began a 30-12 run to close the game, In the final 10 minutes, Duke freshamn guard Derryck Thornton injured his left shoulder and left the game. Coach Mike Krzyzewski earned a technical foul with 5:04 remaining and Allen fouled out just past the four-minute mark forcing Thornton to return. Allen led Duke with 29 points. Damion Lee scored 24 for the Cardinals.

Through it all the crowd roared with approval at the KFC Yum Center.

But even with Allen out of the game and Thornton playing with a hurt shoulder, he still managed to make two baskets and keep the pressure on Louisville until the final 30 seconds.

The victory might serve as the high-water mark for the Cardinals this season because they are not playing in the postseason with a self-imposed ban in anticipation of major NCAA violations being found from an investigation into whether a former assistant coach paid women to have se with player and recruits. Beating Duke on Saturday, keeps alive the possibility that Louisville could finish its season as regular season champs of the ACC.

Duke still has the return of Amile Jefferson and March to look forward to after this hard-fought but bitter loss.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!