Denny Crum said that.
“It’s great to win when you play like you left your game on a bus in Durham.”
I said that.
“When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.”
Bob Dylan said that.
So, soon after they switched out of an ill defined zone into man to man, and grabbed the lead, 12-11 at 15:19 of the 1st, soon pushed it out to five, 8-10, KenPom #96 Georgia Tech realized it had nothing to lose, and played free and easy.
The Yellow Jackets kept the Cards measured from then on in the opening half, driving the lane almost at will. The visitors were 13/21 from the field (62%).
The Cards had several FG droughts including one lasting three minutes, and made but half their FTs (4/8). The Cards engine, Dwayne Sutton, didn’t even get off a shot before the break.
Louisville played without zest, without movement on offense, without movement on defense, with the exception of Darius Perry according to his coach (Mack: “I thought he was the only guy with great energy and talk and effectiveness in the first half.”).
David Johnson made a spectacular drive to the hoop to pull the Cards within a deuce at 28-30. One supposes it should have catalyzed the team — it certainly roused a generally somnambulant midweek crowd — but the Ramblin’ Wreck tallied the next 8.
The visitors, losers of three of four coming in, and 8 straight to the Cards, were up 38-32 at the break. Tech guard Jose Alvarado already had his per game average, 11, by intermission.
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Louisville again had a less than stellar start to the 2d, led by Jordan Nwora with a turnover on the Cards first possession, an ill-advised forced shot on the second, and a missed attempt at a showtime fastbreak windmill slam when down 37-45.
Though it seemed as if GT was scoring at will underneath, Louisville, playing better if not at Final Four level D, did manage to stay close.
Perry found Sam Williamson for a trey. 42-45.
David Johnson, again displaying the will and talent to take charge offensively, hit a fastbreak deuce, then a second chance jumper to close the gap to 46-47 at 12:12.
The Cardinals finally pulled even at 47 all, again at 50 apiece, again at 52-52.
Louisville faced a short :12 shot clock following the 7:57 media timeout. Nwora hustled and outleaped the visitors for a huge offensive rebound on a Fresh Kimble miss, got the ball back to the grad transfer from Philly, whose second chance layup gave the Cardinals their first advantage in 27:46 of game clock.
U of L, at one juncture just a horrid 5/11 at the charity stripe, found a rhythm at both ends. And at the line, where they finished the game netting 9 of 12.
Led by a savvy interlude from Ryan McMahon, the Cards moved ahead by double digits, 65-54, with 5:00 to play.
As some of the crowd thinned out, heading inexplicably to the exits, so too did Louisville’s focus, which dissipated, surrendering ten straight points to the feisty but wearing down visitors.
After which, Malik Williams, obviously imbued with the spirit force of Cardinal heroes of the past, took over the game. Aided by a dumbfounding non-call and whistle, both of which served the Cardinals well.
U of L, up a penny at 65-64, had possession after a 1:12 timeout. Sutton missed. Then Steven Enoch missed. On a tie-up, possession arrow to Tech.
Alvarado missed a J. Moses Wright snared the board, and then was battered by Williams during a block on the follow. No call. Then Wright got whistled, fighting Malik for possession.
Tech was wrecked.
Williams hit a FT. Then grabbed the carom off of Michael Devoe’s rushed trey, and drained two more charity tosses to secure the victory at 68-64.
Mack: I’m never going to be apologetic after a win. We found a way to win and make the plays down the stretch. And we just have to figure out a way to get better. We’re not this juggernaut. We’re trying to get there but it’s not who we are.”
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Malik Williams was The Man. 13 points. 6 boards. Huge FT shooting when it mattered, hitting 6 of 8 in the 2d.
David Johnson had 10, and 3 steals. Other double figure scorers were Steven Enoch with 13, and Jordan Nwora with 10, along with 7 rebounds.
Though Sam Williamson didn’t have much of a stat line, I thought he played a really mature game. Hustled for boards, even if he didn’t get them. Hustled on D, especially in the 2d.
Clemson on Saturday will be another test for the still evolving Cardinals.
— c d kaplan