After a quick five zero Cardinal run to push U of L’s advantage to a unusually precarious 77-70, college hoops shivztingest coach Buzz Williams called timeout with 7:41 of destined to be harrowing time left.
During the stoppage, local weathercaster Kevin Harned came on the video board to announce tomorrow’s Fahrenheit. On the the 19th day of what is traditionally Mother Nature’s coldest, nastiest time of the year — February, the cruelest month — it’s forecasted to be 70 degrees in Derby City.
Which, since there’s no such thing as global warming, is plenty damn dumbfounding.
But not as wacky as this berserk reality. At that juncture of the who wants it more battle, the visitors were exceeding that 70 standard with their shooting behind the arc.
They had hit 15/21 long balls. 71%. Gimme a break.
The Hokies ended up 17/26 from beyond the arc. Still an absurd 65%. Of those, 11 were wide open, uncontested attempts. But only two of those came after intermission, meaning the Cards started sticking closer. VT still made 8/12 while being mostly closely guarded in the second.
This marksmanship was produced against the homestanding University of Louisville Cardinals, which coming into the game were 3d in the land in Three Point FG % D. No more. (U of L also was #1 before the game in D efficiency, according to hoops guru Ken Pomeroy. By sundown, after giving up all those long balls, 59% shooting overall and 90 points, Louisville’s rank fell to #5.)
Yet, the Cards prevailed, posting 94, their third largest output of the campaign.
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And how did that victory happen, you might ask?
Well, start at the start.
During the Cardinals first five possessions, Donovan Mitchell netted a jumper, drained a trey, canned another J, then another threeball.
But, as was to prove to be the story all afternoon, in front of the most raucous Yum! crowd of the year save that big rivalry game, VT hit an open 3 on all but two of its first five possessions. Which interlude ended with this score: Mitchell 10, Va Tech 9.
The Cards rising guard — Remember a month ago when we were all asking, what’s wrong with Mitchell? — scored 13 of the Cardinals’ first 16. He finished the half with 16 points on 6/6 shooting, including four threes.
For the game, he had 26, with 5 boards, a couple of assists and a steal. Wherever he might have been awhile ago, he’s back. Nobody’s asking any questions.
Then there’s the contribution from the 4 spot.
Sure, we’re all talking about Jaylen Johnson, who was a literal beast on the boards. And who scored on a Euro step drive. And then on an old fashioned freight train to the hoop advance.
But we must also recognize that Ray Spalding played with more tenacity than he has in a long while. In but nine minutes of action, he had five points and grabbed five rebounds. Four of those were off the offensive glass.
JJ ended up with 16, all scored after the break, with 8 retrievals, 5 offensive.
So, that power forward position had 21 points and 13 rebounds. JJ and RS were a veritable two-headed monster.
Along with four assists, Quentin Snider contributed 19, including a key energizing deuce just before the half.
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Another reason U of L prevailed: With a lineup that included Ryan McMahon, David Levitch and Afro-coiffed Jay Henderson, the advantage was pushed to ten at 30-20, after Spalding converted a +1.
(Of course, after several more open treys by the oddly pink and gray uniformed Hokies, the Cardinal advantage in a blink had been cut to single digit. Tech went up by as much as 4 before halftime, and were up 1 when folks headed out for a midgame cocktail.)
Yet, U of L had stolen some clock with the end of the bench.
Then there was the second stanza interlude which really got the crowd fired up, no DJ antics necessary.
With 14:50 to play, the Cards retook the lead on a 2d chance Ryan McMahon trey after a Deng Adel offensive board. 54-53, a lead U of L would not relinquish.
At which very moment, VT’s Ty Outlaw was committing an infraction in the paint.
Meaning the Cards kept possession. In it, Dickie V’s protégé missed a bomb, but Anas Mahmoud got the rebound and whipped it back to the diminutive sharpshooting Floridian, who drained a three. 57-53.
With all due respect to The Who’s Tommy, the crowd went crazy when Ryan hit the treys.
I’ve been following Cardinal hoops since there was a center jump after they pulled the ball from the peach basket on a made shot, and I dare say no Cardinal has ever canned two threeballs on the same possession.
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There wasn’t an ounce of quit in Virginia Tech. At one point when the visitors persevered instead of wilting, I jotted in my notes, “Glad we’re not playing in Blacksburg.”
If Buzz Williams could recruit as well as he can coach, Tech would be a legit national contender every season.
Louisville never really shook the Hokies.
But the Cardinals, defensive lapses notwithstanding, again put a heartening determination on display as they have in recent nailbiters. Gritty.
Plus they had an assist to turnover ration on the day of 15/3.
Then there’s the second chance point differential which reads Cards 26, Hokies 3. JJ’s roof raising one handed slam to push the score to 86-79 came after the Cards outtoughed the visitors to gain possession of a loose ball.
Louisville was 12/15 at the line, including 4/5 in the final :22 of play to seal the deal.
Plus, U of L was way effective itself from long range. 12/22 55%.
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One of college hoops general tenets is that to be a legit national contender, a team must rate in the the Top 20 in both offense and defense according to Ken Pomeroy.
As of Saturday sundown, that’s when I’m writing this as if you hadn’t guessed, the following schools are in the mix: Gonzaga, Villanova, SMU, West Virginia, Kentucky, Purdue, Wichita State and . . . wait for it . . . for the first time all season . . . the University of Louisville Cardinals.
U of L fell to #5 on D. But it’s offensive acumen Saturday pushed it to #17.
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Next up, a visit to the DeanDome on Wednesday to contest North Carolina’s Baby Blues.
— Seedy K