BOZICH | Louisville abandons the plan -- and exits NCAA Tourname - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville abandons the plan -- and exits NCAA Tournament

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WDRB) – One day the memories the University of Louisville basketball players will have from their 76-70 overtime loss to Michigan State will begin with Wayne Blackshear playing 21 minutes in the second half after vomiting several times at halftime.

And then finishing the game with a cotton swab jammed in his right nostril after Blackshear took a sharp shot to his nose.

Or maybe a snapshot of Terry Rozier racing away with three Michigan State passes in the second half and converting them into layups while playing every second of this 45-minute rumble.

Or Mangok Mathiang bouncing one free throw off the back of the rim and then into the goal to force the overtime. Dillon Avare's unexpected appearance to make a free throw will be on the list.

One day.

But not Sunday, not after the Cardinals lost a game they could have won simply by making one more play, one more shot or even one more free throw – and then sending Michigan State to the Final Four in Indianapolis next Saturday as champions of the East Regional.

“I just felt we had opportunities to get in there and make stuff happen,” U of L forward Montrezl Harrell said. “We should have just stuck with what we were doing. We would have been the ones out there cutting down the nets.”

“Very tough,” Rozier said. “We made it all the way and we had high hopes of going to the Final Four. It's just tough to come up short.”

Where do you begin?

Probably with the dazzling first half the Cardinals played while scoring 40 points, as many points as any team scored on coach Tom Izzo's MSU team this season.

Harrell did the early work, making six of his first seven shots, scoring 12 points – and then angering the Michigan State coaching staff by screaming at Izzo after making one turnaround jumper at the baseline. “We didn't like that at all,” one Michigan State assistant coach said.

Then Blackshear got involved. For the first 11 minutes Louisville did not attempt a three-point shot. Then Blackshear made one. And another. And another, also finishing the first half with a dozen points.

Don't forget these three names – Mangok Mathiang, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku. Each attempted one shot in the first half. Each made one.

Louisville made better than 53 percent of its field goal attempts – and led 40-32.

“We were running to the end of our plays,” Harrell said. “We were running to the end of our offense. We kept swinging the ball and making them have to close out in tough situations. It put them in a bind.”

But offensive consistency has been elusive for the Cardinals this season. It's the primary reason they lost eight games before arriving at the Carrier Dome – and it's the reason they were unable to beat a Michigan State team that started this tournament seeded seventh in the East.

Louisville missed 17 of its first 20 shots in the second half – and the three makes were all layups that Rozier converted from steals.

The Cards never figured it out and fixed it. Louisville made six field goals in the final 25 minutes – four by Rozier and two by Blackshear. After shooting 53.1 percent in the second half, Louisville shot 18.8 in the second half.

Harrell missed five shots -- after Michigan State worked harder to force him to the baseline. Rozier missed 10. Snider missed five. It was a team effort.

Plenty of one-on-one. Michigan State adjusted by crowding the lane. Louisville did not have a counter.

Or nearly enough ball movement or team basketball. Nine assists led to 17 baskets in the first half. One assist led to six baskets in the second half.

“I think our offense just wasn't clicking,” Rozier said “We weren't moving without the ball. We weren't running our plays. That killed us.”

Harrell and Blackshear had a different perspective.

“We stood around and were spectators of whoever had the ball,” Harrell said.

“I really take a big part of it from this loss. I shot terrible (4 for 9) from the free throw line. I really put a lot of it on myself. I really apologize to this team for shooting a horrible free throw percentage from the line.”

“We just got away from running our offense,” Blackshear said. “We started going one on one.”

Didn't Rick Pitino notice and ask everybody to revert to the first-half plan?

“Sure,” Blackshear said. “When we went down coach told us that we're going to make our run. We did make our run. We were one free throw away from winning.”

After making six of seven shots in the first half, Harrell added only four free throws in the second half. Snider did not score. The Louisville bench added one point – a free throw by rarely used reserve Dillon Avare, who was waved in by Pitino after Blackshear was bumped and bloodied by Matt Costello.

Without Blackshear, the Cards would have never made it to overtime. He scored 16 of his 28 points in the second half. Blackshear was spectacular, making all 12 of his free throw attempts as well as the only four three-point shots that the Cardinals made.

But it was not enough. Not with the Cardinals missing 20 of 25 shots in the second half and then six of seven in overtime. Not with Mathiang tying the game at 65 with a free throw with 4.7 seconds to play – and then missing the game-winner.

Not with everything slipping away in overtime.

“Like I said earlier, we really got away from our plays and did a lot of one on one and standing around,” Harrell said. “Our defense broke down and they hit big-time shots.”

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