CRAWFORD | Shooting helps cover the rough spots as Louisville be - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Shooting helps cover the rough spots as Louisville beats N.C. State

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Quentin Snider works on N.C. State's Cat Barber in Louisville's 77-72 win Thursday. (WDRB photo by John Lewis) Quentin Snider works on N.C. State's Cat Barber in Louisville's 77-72 win Thursday. (WDRB photo by John Lewis)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WDRB) — It’s nice to be able to shoot. A year ago, watching the University of Louisville basketball team was like watching guys throw rocks.

At a backboard and rim.

This year’s team can shoot. It came into Thursday’s game at North Carolina State among the top 10 nationally in field goal percentage. Its three best perimeter shooters all shoot it right at 40 percent or better.

Listen, there have been years around here where if a Louisville player dropped a basketball out of a boat, some people would’ve given him less than a 40 percent chance of hitting water.

The last time Louisville had a player finish the season above 40 percent from beyond the arc was 2011 — when Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith both did it.

All of which brings us to Thursday night’s game at North Carolina State, a game in which the Cardinals did many things well, in stretches. They played periods of good defense. They rebounded well in spurts.

But mainly, they shot the ball well, and that covered everything in a 77-72 win over the Wolfpack.

They made 7 of 13 three-pointers. They shot just under 58 percent in the second half. And when they managed to stop fouling and get the proper personnel on the court and rebound a little bit, they controlled the game.

They got a 14-point lead in the first half. And lost it. They led by 16 points in the second half — and N.C. State had the ball down three with a chance to force overtime late.

Rick Pitino sees the rough edges. But he can’t help but be pleased with the positives.

“We’ve been a very good offensive team all season, because we’re willing passers and have good spacing,” Pitino said. “Last year we had a lot of trouble shooting the ball. We were a layup away from the Final Four. We didn’t shoot free throws well. We didn’t do a lot of things well offensively. But we were a great defensive team. This team right now is winning on offense. This was the first time all season I would say that first-half defense was pretty special, because we were going from zone to man and zone to man and it was working for us the first time.”

That’s why Pitino was smiling, even though his team lost a 16-point lead with 3:38 to play. That defense in the first half looked the way he wanted it to look.

Now, the Cardinals could manage to get a rebound after they forced a missed shot. No matter. One thing at a time.

And they got into major foul trouble. Starters Donovan Mitchel, Damion Lee and Trey Lewis all sat out the final 8 minutes of the first half. Five guys were saddled with three fouls before the second TV timeout of the second half.

Pitino said he wasn’t worried. Fouls, he said, are “the one area with this basketball team that I don’t worry about. Because I’ll play David Levitch. I’m not afraid to play him. We’ve got 12 guys that I don’t think there’s a major dropoff.”

Lewis said he was a bit anxious.

“It’s frustrating,” Lewis said. “Anytime you’re sitting out because of fouls, because we know the team needs us out there. But it happens, and when it does, guys have to step up, and the exciting thing about tonight is that guys did.”

Quentin Snider did. Emerging from several sub-par shooting games, Snider scored more points in 32 minutes (21) than the ACC’s leading scorer, Cat Barber, managed in 37 (20).

Snider made 7 of 11 shots. He made 4 of 6 three-pointers. And if not for him, the Cardinals would’ve been bogged down badly at times in the second half.

“I started to feel pretty good,” Snider said. “And I made a few in a row, and I felt like Damion or somebody.”

“Hey,” Lee said. “He looked better than me tonight. He’s improved a lot, a lot, a lot.”

Things flicker on and off for this team. But when they’re on, you can see for a minute what the final outcome might be.

Ray Spalding spent much of the game lost on defense. He still scored 12 points on 6-8 shooting almost effortlessly in 19 minutes. Jaylen Johnson had some big moments, grabbed important rebounds, made two key free throws late under pressure, scored on post moves, and finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds.

Chinanu Onuaku keeps improving. He had 12 points on 6-9 shooting and pulled down 14 rebounds. But more importantly, he again stayed out of foul trouble, despite playing some of the best defense of his career, hedging out against N.C. State guards on ball screens at the top of the key, then recovering quickly to guard big men down low.

“For a sophomore, like Montrezl (Harrell), he’s a great thinker,” Pitino said, then referenced a late-game exchange. “He said, ‘Take me out of the game, they’re trying to foul me.’ I said, ‘No, you take the ball out, because you’re a good passer.’ Then he said, ‘Run the turnout, go inside to me, I’ll score.’ He’s like that. He communicates very well with me and I trust in his judgment very much. He makes good points for a sophomore. Sometimes you look at a big, strong center and wouldn’t think he’s your best thinker, but he is.”

Think about this. In Louisville’s first ACC road game of the season, Lewis went 0-for-4 from the field and scored only four points. Lewis went 4-8, and missed two critical free-throws with  17 seconds left and the Cards leading only by three. He finished with 13 points.

If I give you those stats before game, on a black-out night at N.C. State, you write it down as an “L” in a big, black marker.

Instead Snider scores 21, the Cards find some defense and Lee gets another chance, up three with four seconds left, and he buries both free throws.

“Of course, I was stressed. Not stressed, that’s not the word. I was upset at myself for missing those two,” Lee said. “That’s something I pride myself on. I don’t miss those. So after that, and Nanu was throwing the ball in, I told him, give it to me, I’ll make them. And he was gracious enough to do that.”

In fact, I was right behind Onuaku when he threw the ball inbounds. He had two teammates break open during the set, but he went over the top to find Lee.

“I think this game shows you about the ACC,” Lee said. “You’re up 16, let off the gas for two minutes and they’re ready to tie the game. You’ve got to stay on it.”

Still, Pitino was pleased.

“I thought we did some really good things down the stretch, of going to the right people in the low post, and then using some clock,” Pitino said. “Look, we fell down a few times, miscommunicated and they made a three, fouled Cat Barber when we shouldn’t have, these are all learning experiences, but most of the time the home team is going to come back, especially when you’re as talented as N.C. State. So we’re overly pleased to come away with a one-point victory, three-point, five-point, didn’t matter. We’re winning with offense right now. This is the first time we played the type of defense we can play in the first half, but we rebounded poorly. . . . We’re young mentally. We made a lot of mistakes. But we’re getting better.”

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