SLIDESHOW: BOZICH | Louisville Rolls SMU With Gritty Smith And Jones
DALLAS (WDRB) -- Where do you begin? With Russ Smith and his sour stomach? Or with his roommate, Chris Jones, who has a grieving heart? Southern Methodist didn't have an answer for either one of them.
Smith took six three-point shots and made six three-point shots as the University of Louisville dispatched SMU, 84-71, at crackling Moody Coliseum Wednesday night.
This was after Smith started vomiting Tuesday night after the Cardinals' pre-game meal and was still vomiting with less than three minutes to go in Louisville's victory.
"Coach was drawing up a play and Russ just got up and walked away," Montrezl Harrell said. "I asked him where he was going because he was in the game."
Smith was running to the trashcan parked at the end of the bench. He hit the trashcan more times than Smith hit the basket– and remember he made nine field goals while scoring 26 points. Hold those Player of the Year ballots. Smith keeps creating headlines.
"That was crazy," Smith said. "You get that nasty little belch. I just had to excuse myself. My confidence level was rolling so I'm just glad the shots went in."
Then there was Smith's roommate, Chris Jones. This was not a fun road trip to Dallas for him either. On Saturday, when the Cardinals were playing in Memphis, his hometown, Jones, said that his step-brother, Demetrius Ray, was shot and killed in Jones' neighborhood.
Smith didn't get much sleep Tuesday night either. Smith kept wandering into the bathroom and Jones was thinking about Ray, his best friend since elementary school.
"I've been in my room crying a lot but I've just kept doing what he wanted me to do," Jones said. "I'm dedicating the rest of this season (to Ray). That's why I'm playing so hard. That's what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to win the whole thing for him."
Jones scored 21. Not only was it his career high, it was also more than Jones scored in his last four games combined.
Then there was the rest of Pitino's unflappable team. This was SMU's first home loss in 16 games. Louisville made 13 three-point shots. No team had made more than 11 against the Mustangs all season. The Cards scored 84 points. No other team from the American Athletic Conference had scored more than 78 against Larry Brown's team. Not a bad trifecta against the nation's No. 18 team.
Add it up – a fearless performance by Smith, a determined performance by Jones and an effective performance by the other Cards. Luke Hancock had 15 and Montrezl Harrell 19. That's 81 of Louisville's 84 points.
Louisville is 25-5 overall and 14-3 in the AAC. They can secure the top bid in the conference tournament by closing out the regular season with a victory over Connecticut at the KFC Yum! Center Saturday afternoon.
Even Pitino was impressed by the poise and persistence of his team. They delivered on a night when Moody Coliseum was stuffed with 7,305 fans. Don't tell the fire marshal but the capacity of the place is listed at 7,000.
They made room for more – and you'll understand why when you read the list of celebrities who wanted to see this game and made it the toughest ticket in the history of college basketball in this town.
Start with former President George W. Bush, his wife, Laura and their daughter, Jenna. Pitino instructed Luke Hancock to shake Bush's hand before the game and tell him that it was an honor for the Cards to play in front of him.
Two rows behind Bush was Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones. At the baseline there was Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo as well as head coach Jason Garrett. Troy Aikman, the Hall of Fame quarterback, was also in the house.
For the first 10 minutes they were standing and screaming and dancing with everybody else. SMU shot to a 26-12 lead. Louisville couldn't catch the basketball or make shots.
But the Cards were defending. They started knocking away steals, collecting 11 in the first half, 17 for the game. They scored 15 straight points to take the lead.
In the second half, Jones and Smith took over.
Credit Chris Jones with the first critical spurt. He scored the quickest six points of the season – delivering a three-point shot from the left wing. Seconds later Jones stripped SMU guard Nic Moore, converted a layup, drew a foul and made the free throw.
Louisville moved from a 37-34 hole to a 40-37 lead. SMU didn't have an answer for Jones, who had six points in nine seconds.
"All the negativity I've been hearing about, I've tried to throw it out of the back of my head," Jones said.
Jones said that Ray's funeral will be this weekend, but he will not attend. "I'm not good with funerals," he said. "I just told them to send me a picture. I'll just get past this."
Smith said he was not certain who killed his step-brother or why they did it. Memphis is a tough town. There was no story about Ray in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, other than a one-line obituary that said Ray was 23.
Then there was Smith. More than four months ago, at the AAC Media Day in Memphis, SMU coach Larry Brown snickered when he was told that Pitino had called Smith the college version of Allen Iverson, the do-everything, all-pro guard Brown coached in Philadelphia. Brown said a comparison to Iverson wasn't fair to any player.
He's not snickering today. Smith scored four points in the first half. Hey, he wasn't feeling well. He missed four of his first five shots.
Smith did not make his first three-point shot until seven minutes had been played in the second half. He made five more over the next 8 minutes and 38 seconds. And then he left the huddle to fill the trash can at the end of the Louisville bench.
"I was kind of dizzy (during the mid-day walk through) and I was just waiting (to get sick again) and I hoped it wasn't during the game," Smith said.
"I guess great players fight through battles during a game," Jones said. "He fought through his battles."
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