Never one scared to venture into Wonderland, I’ve got a hypothesis.
My hunch is that the Greek God of Hoops, Naismithius, finally got the cable service on Olympus to carry the ACC Network, and was hangin’ in the TV room, watching the game with Hermes and Hephaestus (though he was mostly chatting up Demeter at the hors d’oeuvres table).
Hades kept nudging Naismithius to diddle around with the Cards because he thinks they are overrated at #2, and thought the visiting Spartans deserve some trickeration too for their shenanigans, and they could all get a good laugh.
Naismithius chuckled. Thus strangeness ensued on the Yum! hardwood.
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In front of a borderline embarrassing assemblage announced at 14,410 but only a third to a half that at best at tipoff, the Louisville Cardinals showed up flat against the visitors, who came into the game ranked #346 out of 353 DI NCAA squads.
A quick overview of the opening 20 would reveal the Cards fell behind 4-8, after yet again turning it over on their first offensive possession. Soon took the lead on consecutive Ryan McMahon threes. Pushed out a bit, at times looked like they were running practice drills against the managers, but never really got much distance.
The Spartans connected on 6 of 12 from beyond the arc, including one at the halftime buzzer, which pulled them within a bracing 6 at the break, 34-28.
There was nothing remarkable about the halftime box score. Jordan Nwora had half the Cards points. McMahon had 9, and nobody else had more than a single bucket. The stat lines couldn’t reveal that Louisville played only 25 seconds of several defensive interludes.
When you ain’t got nothin’ you got nothin’ to lose, and that’s how Upstate played, believing by the end of the evening the school might have to officially change its name to USC Upset.
Which was looking well within the realm of possibility for much of the 2d. The Cards opened with a turnover. The Spartans with a trey.
The underdogs knotted it at 40 with another one from the burbs at 15:47.
A minute and a half of game time later, they had taken the lead, 43-40. What the fans thought would be a sure thing, i.e. that an easy U of L victory was inevitable, no longer was.
Hermes, who always loved a good trick, now joined by Hades and Artemis, couldn’t stop giggling. Naismithius however had had enough, and decided to let it play out as the talent and efforts on the court would have it.
It didn’t hurt that the Cards might have been energized by the dance routine of the 269 straight champion Ladybirds to a nifty techno version of “Do You Love Me?” by Motown’s Contours.
But seriously folks, the University of Louisville Cardinals then got serious.
Card catalyst Steady Dwayne Sutton hit an OK I’m Open three to tie it at 43. Nwora netted 2 FTs after being fouled at the rim on a breakout layup. Steven Enoch blocked a Spartan shot and Steady found McMahon who brought down the house with a string music trey. 48-43.
Upstate mentor Dave Dickerson did his best to keep his troops in the tilt. Out of a timeout, the Spartans then ran sets at warp speed, cutting through the lane at wind sprint pace. The Cards were up to the defensive task however.
Louisville shot ahead 54-46 on Darius Perry’s triple, his only make of the game. (But he had 9 assists and ZERO turnovers.)
Sutton hit a couple charity tosses to push the lead to double digits at 56-46.
Though Louisville seemed to have the visitor’s measure, it didn’t appear Upstate had yet been broken. Then, after a couple Cards hit the deck, Chris Mack made what I thought to be a pretty ballsy move.
He inserted David Johnson into the lineup to QB the offense for his first PT as a Cardinal.
Coming out of the 7:59 stoppage, with the game still tense, U of L’s lineup was Enoch, Sutton, Perry, Johnson and Sam Williamson. No Kimble. No McMahon, though he might have been a bit lame. No Nwora, though he soon reentered.
OK, DJ, I know you’ve been hurt. But, hey, let’s see what you can do under fire with the game still on the line?
What came next were two sequences to embrace.
Perry found Johnson on a set play for an uncontested Dickie V slam bam jam, the rookie’s first (of many to come) points in Red & Black.
And then, my favorite Cardinal interlude of the game. Actually, of the season.
Upstate had the ball, but the Cards were smothering them with close checking. After a few switches, Jordan Nwora had the man with the ball above the FT lane. He was in the guy’s compression shorts. The Spartan would try to jab one way then the other. Nwora cut him off each time, all the while pushing the visitor back toward the midcourt stripe, eventually stripping him of the ball. Which Perry picked up and got to Williamson for a breakaway flush.
It was Nwora’s best defensive effort as a Cardinal. As in Ever.
The team then energized, Perry found JN for a dunk. Then after another defensive stop, during which the Cards’ leading scorer snared one of his 9 boards, U of L grabbed three offensive caroms, one by Nwora, one by Enoch, and one by Sutton who finally tallied.
64-48. The Cards were clear.
* * * * *
As mediocre as U of L played for thirty or so minutes, they were up to the task when it mattered, and broke a foe they should have broken.
Mack was more forgiving in his postgame comments than I certainly expected.
He broke it down. Took bad shots in first half. Enoch didn’t post up like he wanted the ball. Didn’t get to the free throw line enough. For a long time, played with zero hands on live dribbles. (Not exactly sure what that means.) Told the team at halftime they were getting soft defensively near the shot clock instead of getting stronger.
“We have to be able to end possessions.”
He praised Darius Perry, for playing a “really really solid game.”
And, admitting he sounded “like a broken record,” he praised Steady: “Dwayne Sutton is relentless.” For the record, Sutton scored 9, grabbed 15 rebounds (7 offensive, 8 defensive), had 4 assists, a steal and zero turnovers.
In addition that great D stop, Jordan Nwora hit 11 of his 19 shots for a season high 28 points, with 9 windexes off the glass.
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Preparing before the game, I was going to riff on how the Cards are playing four schleppers in a row. So I researched Joe Lewis’s Bum of the Month Club, from his Heavyweight Championship stint in the late 30s and early 40s.
But, you know what, USC Upstate might not be that good, but they showed grit, and proved formidable.
Despite lackluster play much of the evening, so did the Cardinals when it mattered.
— Seedy K