Louisville CardFile: Eastern Kentucky

The University of Louisville has been competing on the hardwood against Eastern Kentucky since 1919, when Saturday’s visitors were a Teacher’s College. (Or, so I recall.)

The Cardinals and Colonels — Didn’t they used to also be called the Maroons too? — have now battled 72 times on the hardwood.

At one time,  it was a competitive instate rivalry. But obviously has not been so since the last EKU win in 1963. The series now stands 50-22 favor of U of L.

Saturday afternoon’s tilt played out as the last 15 have: Cards  99, Colonels 67.

Which is not to say that, for many reasons, it wasn’t a reasonable test for Louisville, after last Tuesday’s debacle in Madison Square Garden. It was.

 * * * * *

Given the Cards less than satisfactory point guard play, Chris Mack indicated in advance he intended to give freshman David Johnson more PT at the point.

That the visitors pressed the whole way provided the Cards’ future PG even more experience.

“A really funky way to play a basketball game.” That’s how the Cardinal coach opened his post game press conference. “We haven’t seen 40 minutes of pressure, 40 minutes of changing presses, and random traps.”

So, how did Johnson, who played a season most 16:57, handle his first significant stint of action?

Mack: “Good and bad. He’s a freshman. It was just a weird game. Not a lot of teams play the way Eastern Kentucky plays. But that’s good for David, to have those types of experiences where they have a smaller guard up under him. Not only is he dealing with his primary defender, they’re randomly running and jumping. He made some turnovers in those moments but he also did a good job with the accelerator on. He got to the rim and made some plays. Sometimes you have to go through some both positive and negative experiences on the game floor to be better the next time. So I like what David did today and I think he’s only going to get better and better.”

There will be a time in the future, when Johnson will helm the ship. Indications are it will be in good hands.

Saturday’s performance was, let’s call it a Satisfactory ++.

2 assists, but 3 turnovers. 5 points. Earnest defense.

What struck me is he will not be uncomfortable when he’s the Guy in Charge. He’ll be up to the task.

 * * * * *

The majority of Mack’s Friday afternoon meet and greet with the media dealt with Cardinal star Jordan Nwora.

“Shot selection was terrible.

“Jordan Nwora took some shots against Texas Tech that were bad.

“One became two became three became four. That’s not going to happen again.

“He shot the ball so damn quick.”

So, how did Nwora respond to coaching that imparted that message in the aftermath of U of l’s first L of the campaign? One guy’s opinion: To his credit, with his most mature game yet as a Cardinal.

With the Cards up 24-16 at the 11:03 timeout of the 1st, JN had 9 points, but hadn’t forced a thing. He tallied on a breakaway slam on U of L’s 3d possession, and a corner trey two possessions later. He scored on a follow to make it 19-14. Next time up court, he judiciously eschewed a jumper from the corner, drove the baseline for a dunk.

He hustled to secure an offensive rebound that was bouncing on the floor and netted a three to push the advantage to 39-21.

He had 17 and 3 at the break, finished with 26 and 7, on 10/14, 3/5, 3/3 marksmanship. He had 3 assists and two steals. He did not turn it over.

He stayed engaged on defense. One example: Some great hands D that led to a Sam Williamson fastbreak +1 to push the lead to 64-39.

When he stole the ball and rang up a fastbreak +1 to push the score to 69-44, he did not pass the ball to David Johnson alone under the hoop. After making the charity toss, Mack pulled him, provided instruction on that minor gaffe before he allowed Nwora to take a seat on the bench.

Here’s what Mack said he didn’t say to Nwora after Red Raiders’ L, and how he liked Jordan’s game on Saturday: “I didn’t have to talk to him one-on-one to get the message across. He forced his offense and took quick shots. He has to understand he is circling every scouting report and we’re also going to run stuff for him. When he takes those shots, we’re not a good team. He understands that. He’s a smart kid who has come a long, long way from a year ago. You see how he responds. He gets 26 points, but he doesn’t shoot 24 times to get it. It says a lot about his maturity, his coachability, and his talent.”

The reality is, when Jordan Nwora plays as well and as contained as he did on Saturday afternoon, Louisville is a significantly more effective team. And he’s a real All-American.

 * * * * *

Louisville gave up 16 offensive rebounds against the smaller Colonels. To U of L’s credit they only surrendered 8 points on them.

But this is an issue to be cleaned up. It has been a recurring problem all season for the Cardinals, and Mack mentioned it several times after the game.

 * * * * *

Playing a foe like EKU a third of the way through the schedule allowed more PT for other rookies besides Johnson and Williamson.

Especially Josh Nickelberry who was fairly steady and solid in eight minutes of action.

Aidan Igiehan was his usual active self in five minutes of play.

Mack went with an all frosh lineup the last 3:04 of the game. The neophytes were +3 in that span, including 6/6 at the FT line. Nickelberry hit both of his chances, Quinn Slazinski made all four of his attempts.

 * * * * *

The Cardinals got 34 points from the post.

Steven Enoch tallied 23 on 9/10 shooting. Four rebounds.

Malik Williams notched 11 on 4/6 shooting, plus 6 boards.

 * * * * *

The Cardinals mojo was workin’ at the FT line. 22/23. Shame on you, Enoch.

 * * * * *

Playing Eastern Kentucky always reminds me of one my favorite Cardinal games ever.

January 4, 1961, when U of L was ascending up the totem pole of college basketball, but the schools were still fairly evenly matched rivals.

It was a back and forth battle at Freedom Hall, in front of 9,257, the biggest crowd of the season. The Cards were down five with two minutes to play, and still behind 3 with :48 on the clock. Louisville was behind a digit after scoring with several seconds to go. When, on EKU’s inbounds play against pressure, the ball rolled out of bounds after a missed U of L shot off a Maroon.

In that era, the clock did not stop when a ball went out of bounds. But as players were grabbing for the rock, referee Max Macon stopped the clock. Which allowed the Cards enough time to get the ball to guard Ron Rubenstein in the corner for a game winning deuce.

Afterward Eastern coach Paul McBrayer was livid at Macon’s homer call, allowing U of L time for that last shot.

 * * * * *

The gym went silent Saturday and the assembled held their breath when Ryan McMahon hobbled off the court with an apparent ankle in jury on the Cards’ second possession of the game.

Fortunately he returned not much later.


 * * * * *

Nothing during a break in the action says “The Glamor and Excitement of Cardinal Hoops” like . . . Roller Bowling.

One more exhibition next week against Miami (Ohio), before the Big One on the 28th.

— Seedy K



2 thoughts on “Louisville CardFile: Eastern Kentucky

  1. David Johnson has some size and some speed. He has a pretty good handle for a big guard. He looked composed beating the press. But once he was in the half court, he looked like he had no good idea what to do. Aidan Igiehan is going to be an All American and play in the NBA if he will stay four years.

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