Louisville CardFile: Clemson

Ever the contrarian, I must disagree with Rick Pitino, who was with one exception generous in his praise for the Cardinals after they broke Clemson just before halftime and continued the slaughter the final twenty, prevailing 92-60.

“The guys did a great job tonight in every phase of the game.”

“They were great on offense tonight. This is a very good defensive team. We shot 63 percent in the first half, 51 percent in the second. It was a great performance by our guys.”

When talking of Jaylen Johnson (12 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists, one of which was U of L’s best skip pass of the year to Deng Adel in the weakside corner for a three), RP called the Cards huskiest big “relentless in his work ethic.”

But, then, referring to the double technical that sent JJ to the showers along with his Tiger adversary Elijah Thomas, Pitino offered that the Kid from Ypsilanti “sort of spoiled a really good night by stooping to a different level.”

And that’s where I must disagree with the Cardinal coach, while acknowledging as I must that he has two national crowns and hundreds and hundreds more Ws than I. I shall not allow that resumé disparity get in the way of offering a contrary take. 

I’m of the belief that one thing this Cardinal team lacks is eye of the tiger toughness. (Which the Clemson Tigers did not have in the 2d half when they laid down like tabby cats on a withering August South Carolina afternoon.) Just yesterday afternoon, a fellow fan and I were lamenting that this team is disinclined to play mean, due to the personalities of the players.

So, it seems to me, any kind of oh yeah bring it on mo fo stare down combativeness is a positive. Especially when it comes at 76-54 with 5:55 to buzzer, a juncture of inconsequence in a game already won.

So, yeah, it was immature of Johnson, but it was a display of grizzly energy I’d like to see more of from this band of Cardinals.

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The key question remains how will the Cards fare without Quentin Snider in the country’s toughest league until his hopefully soon return?

We’ll certainly find out more Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee against a legit Florida State contingent that’s atop the conference standings, after dealing Notre Dame its first league loss.

But the bludgeoning of Brad Brownell’s Tigers did not provide an answer.

Last night’s visitors displayed as little heart as any ACC team I can recall since U of L joined the league. To use race track parlance, the Tigers spit out the bit.

Louisville, absolutely out of sorts and sputtering like a rusty ’87 jalopy that’s been sitting in the garage since PeePaw passed in ’94, turned it over three times in its first five possessions. While Clemson, disarmingly crisp from the tip and looking ready to compete after four consecutive conference Ls, tallied on its first five for an 11-4 advantage.

It made sense that U of L would need some time to find its footing on offense. Though the commission of six turnovers before the second media timeout was dismaying.

But it made no sense at all that the Cards were playing the worst D in memory. The visitors were getting to the basket for bunnies so easily, the word matador comes to mind. Cardinals were getting beat to the hoop like their feet were nailed to the Yum! hardwood.

Only after Donovan Mitchell — to once again overuse a favorite phrase — grabbed the game by the short and curlies did the Cardinals find a rhythm.

He drove to the hoop from his strong side.

He drove to the hoop from the Brooklyn side.

He drove to the hoop and laid it in over the back of his head.

Six times he scorched the visitors.

Then after V.J.King (playing his best game as a Cardinal with 14 points), netted a 1+1 and canny J for a 35-31 lead, Donovan sapped the visitors of their will and precious bodily fluids in the opening stanza’s final :14 seconds.

He bullseyed a trey. Then, after a V.J. pilfer, bombed another at the buzzer for a ten point 41-31 separation at the break.

Led by DM, who scored 18 in the first on 8/8 shooting, and Adel, who had 9 on 4/5 shooting, the Cards hit 63% in the opening half.

That, and the fact they finally rediscovered their defensive chops after being reamed out by Coach during a break in the action, turned the game and broke Clemson.

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U of L continued to look super in the second.

Then again, Clemson never really returned to the court from the locker room.

Jaron Blossomgame — Wasn’t he like the preseason ACC POY? — goose egged the second half.

Penn transfer Tony Hicks, from whom the Cards need help during Q’s absence, finally showed a bit of life after the game opened up. He tallied 9 points on 4/6, 1/1 at the line shooting. (Caveat, in the first when the game was still in doubt, Hicks put up an ofer.)

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RP was quick to point out post game how well Mangok Mathiang performed. Especially defensively.

While Silent K remains an iffy option on offense, he did batter the Tigers with 12 points on 6/9 shooting. Plus he blocked a couple shots and grabbed 8 boards.

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Are you aware that Louisville will face the league leading Seminoles Saturday afternoon after but a 39 hour turnaround?

Of course, you do. The Rick won’t let us forget.

One guy’s opinion: A victory over Florida State, all things considered, would be the biggest W so far in a season that already includes defeats of Purdue, Indiana, Duke and Kentucky.

— Seedy K