CRAWFORD | Louisville bigs come up, well, big in 71-64 win over Purdue
Against a talented front line from Purdue, Louisville coach Rick Pitino asked his own big men for more -- and got it in a 71-64 win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge Wednesday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- So, where did those bigs come from?
I'm looking at the center position at the University of Louisville from its three games in the Bahamas, and it scored 21 points -- in the whole tournament -- on a combined 6-15 from the field.
Then the Cardinals come home to face Purdue, with as much quality at the four and five spots as you could want -- Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan -- and it looked like it could be trouble.
Fast forward to the postgame stat sheet after No. 14 Louisville beat No. 15 Purdue 71-64 Wednesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at the KFC Yum! Center. Take a look at the center position: Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud combined for 20 points, shot 9 of 15 from the field, nine rebounds and outstanding defense Haas, who had just one point at halftime and eight in the game on 2-9 shooting.
At the power forward spot, the Cards got six points and two rebounds from Jaylen Johnson and 11 points (on 4-4 shooting) and nine rebounds from Ray Spalding, not to mention a defensive effort that held Swanigan scoreless in the first half before he heated up to score 14 in the second.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino came away talking about his team's defensive effort, especially in the first half. But ti was the awakening of the bigs that made the difference in this game for the Cardinals. And that, largely, came from a renewed effort to get the ball inside and to throw entry passes to the post.
"We trapped. We fronted. We went after it really hard," Pitino said of his defense on the interior. "The guys really focused in on the game plan. We knew how tough they are and they wanted to stay in the game, but Ray is the length guy. See when Ray pressures the ball up top, they can't get the high-low. That's why I went with him over Jaylen because Ray's 7-4 wingspan, his length, stops the ball from going inside. Now Anas did a terrific job as well. . . . We were trying to drive and take it to them all night. We missed about five or six layups in the game and we'll get better at that. Our whole offensive effort tonight was to go inside. We thought we could score inside against them and we wanted to get away from the jump shots."
It showed in their shooting percentage. The Cards shot 48.3 percent from the field and 50 percent in the second half.
Defense was a key. Louisville was able to speed Purdue up just out of its comfort zone. The Boilermakers had 19 turnovers in the game and shot just 35.8 percent from the field after making only 7 of 28 first-half shots.
"We came into the game and knew they had great players and always try to go into the low post, so we tried to go at them and get them in foul trouble," Mahmoud said. "When that didn't work, our second thing was we had to try to outplay them, and I think we did a good job of that. . . . We knew how big they were, and we knew how hard it was going to be to guard them one-on-one, so our whole thing was just front them and not let them get the ball, and whenever they did get the ball, just trap them and rotate."
Pitino figured he'd have to give up something if he was going to take away Purdue's post play. That showed up in the 10 three-pointers the Boilermakers made.
For a second straight game, the Cardinals saw a big second-half lead dissipate. They were up by 18 with 11:44 to play, but were clinging to a 4-point lead with 1:35 left.
"When you lose a 20-point lead and lose a game, it's tough," Mahmoud said. "So when we lost a lead tonight, it was probably a good thing for us, because we had to show what we had learned and turn things around to win."
Donovan Mitchell responded with a pair of baskets when the Cards' lead dwindled.
Pitino said he knew Purdue would make a run. The Boilermakers are expected to contend in the Big Ten Conference.
It's easy to look at lost leads. What shouldn't be lost in the past two games is that the Cards are getting leads on pretty good teams. And with the exception of the second half against Baylor, when the team was fatigued, it has played increasingly good basketball over the past four games.
Louisville also got contributions from Ryan McMahon -- who was on the court for nine minutes but contributed six points and produced a team best plus-11 from his time on the court -- and from Tony Hicks, who played 13 solid minutes.
It was an off-night shooting for Quentin Snider, who made just 2 of 11 shots and finished with nine points and two assists, but the game showed that the Cardinals can beat a good team without the guards providing the bulk of the offense.
"I thought their bench was probably the difference, if you look of the field goal percentage from those guys that came off," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "McMahon hit those two threes that were huge. There was a lot of time in between them, but those are two big shots for them. Their big guys off the bench were really good also."
Next up for the Cards is their first true road game of the season, a visit to Grand Canyon on Saturday.
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