When I witnessed Duke upsetting North Carolina on Day 5 of my college basketball tour, I counted myself lucky to see such a game.
When I watched Minnesota upset Maryland, snapping their conference losing streak, I convinced myself it was just a coincidence that both game five and six ended in upsets.
The concern that I might be the J-word was assuaged when Valparaiso defeated Oakland in game seven. I breathed a giant sign of relief. I didn’t need that kind of responsibility.
I headed to Louisville for the Duke game early Saturday morning with a clear conscience. The four-hour drive from Schererville, Indiana to the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville was easy and parking and entering the arena was even easier.
As I settled in to the media room, I noticed a definitively less friendly crowd than I had grown accustomed to over the course of my travels. Maybe it was just that Valpo was such a hard act to follow, or maybe Louisville folk don’t like new blood. Either way, it was a quiet game for me.
I had anticipated a hard-fought, physical battle between the two top-notch programs, but I was in no way prepared for the 71-64 victory the Cards pulled on the Blue Devils. So it wasn’t technically an upset, but Duke was riding high from the game in Chapel Hill, so many, myself included, thought that would win out over Louisville’s physicality.
Granted, I witnessed first hand how wounded Duke was after the UNC game but I also saw how many gamers has Coach Krzyzewski has on his roster.
The game started well enough for Duke, who jumped out to a solid 37-29 lead at the half, fueled by 58.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc, 19 points from Grayson Allen and six rebounds from Marshall Plumlee. Louisville was struggling from deep, going 2-7 from 3-point land and only getting five points from Damion Lee.
The second half started off much the same way, with Duke’s lead holding strong. But with about 10 minutes left in the game, a serious of unfortunate events, including back-to-back turnovers by Duke’s Derryck Thornton and subsequent made baskets by Louisville brought the Cardinals within two. Another turnover by Greyson Allen put the Cards up with six minutes left to play and Louisville never looked back.
Allen picked up three fouls in three minutes, fouled out of the game and was issued a technical. A slew of missed shots later and Louisville had officially beaten Duke, who just beat North Carolina, who sits on top of the ACC, which is a lit conference.
Speaking of lit, the KFC Yum! Center (yes I just like writing that) was rocking during those final minutes and the fans were fun to watch.
The post game press conference was interesting as well, with an animated Rick Pitino talking about the keys to their victory (spoiler alert: it had to do with guys like Chinanu Onuaku going beast mode) followed by a slightly less fired-up Coach K, reiterating how proud he was of his “warrior” players but how disappointed he was in the fifth foul called on Allen.
After the post game, I headed to the airport to cover my last game in New York City. I was finally going to see a game at Madison Square Garden. Luckily, I was able to get the last seat on a plane from Charlotte to JFK.
I’m excited to see if Seton Hall is real enough to make a return to the tournament and if St. John’s struggle is truly that real.
See you on the other side.