LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Ryan McMahon played the final two seconds of the first half in Louisville's 76-72 overtime win at Syracuse Monday night.

He played the final four seconds of regulation.

And in overtime, he played the hero.

He might've played only six seconds in regulation, but McMahon scored seven points in overtime, including a three-pointer to steady the Cards after they fell behind by three early in the extra period, a crucial put-back basket (his first two-point field goal of the season) and two free-throws in the closing seconds to lock down a game that nearly slipped away multiple times.

The redshirt freshman who came to Louisville on the recommendation of ESPN's Dick Vitale -- when Louisville's Rick Pitino was the only major college coach who trusted Vitale's assessment of him enough to take a look -- rescued the Cards on a night when they lost Donovan Mitchell to fouls late in regulation and lost their touch from the free-throw line throughout.

The Cardinals had made 80 percent of their free throws the previous four games. In this one, they were 14-28 when McMahon stepped to the stripe with just under two seconds remaining. In fact, they wouldn't have had to worry about overtime had they not gone 7-17 from the line in regulation.

But what would've been the fun in that? Certainly, McMahon wouldn't have had the moments he had. McMahon swished the first free-throw, jabbing a high five at the air to an imaginary teammate (such is the importance of ritual). Then he made the second, and the Cardinals walked away with their second straight win, and ninth in their past 11 Atlantic Coast Conference games.

"He put on a Superman outfit and won the game for us," Pitino said. ". . . I'm glad he had that moment."

Louisville improved to 21-5, 9-4 in the ACC, and moved for the time being into second-place tie with Florida State, though Duke and Virginia are tied with the Cards in the loss column. Coming just two days after a tight win over Miami at home, Pitino couldn't understate the win's importance to his team.

"It's gigantic," Pitino told Bob Valvano on his Louisville Radio Network postgame coaches' show, sponsored by Tom Drexler Plumbing. "Because we knew how much Miami needed the game (Saturday) and we knew how much Syracuse needed the game, and to come up with two wins, one in which you don't play well and the other you're in a hostile environment, especially down the stretch with somebody being very, very confident, it's a great thing."

After Mitchell fouled out with 1:15 left in regulation, Pitino turned to David Levitch. But the senior struggled, missing a three-pointer with 49 seconds left in regulation, then backing off Syracuse point guard John Gillon, who made a three to tie it with 37 seconds left. When Levitch passed up an open three on the next trip, Pitino turned to McMahon.

"I knew at that point (Levitch) wasn't going to take the shot," Pitino said. "And I knew for a fact, Ryan never met a shot he didn't like. I knew he would take it. What surprised me was the deflection he got there and the layup. . . .  David has given us some big moments, but I just didn't want him playing at that point. And Ryan's got nerves of steel."

But McMahon wasn't the only hero. Donovan Mitchell, before fouling out, was outstanding in the second half, with 13 of his 16 points. He also had three steals and four rebounds. Anas Mahmoud, after a couple of subpar games, bounced back with 12 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and a pair of steals. Quentin Snider, in his second game back from a strained hip flexor, finished with 13 points and six assists, and Jaylen Johnson went to work on the offensive boards in the second half to finish with 10 points and eight rebounds.

"I thought Anas played great," Pitino said. "I think Donovan Mitchell's playing like an All-American, I really do. His confidence level is great, he had three steals, three assists, four rebounds, his level is really, really high right now. . . . (Mahmoud) plays very well against the zone. He did a really good job tonight. He's let us down quite a bit, in practice as well as games, with not being physical. But tonight he did a terrific job of being physical. Look, sometimes you look at the percentage in the second half and say, you shot 34 percent, but in reality we went to the line. It's not as bad as that. We had all good shots, they executed beautifully. This is a tough place to win today, especially in overtime without your best player. I'm really proud of the guys."

It was Syracuse's first ACC loss at home -- where they'd also lost non-conference games to Wisconsin and Georgetown. Their last three home wins were over Florida State, Virginia and Wake Forest.

Syracuse shot 40 percent from the field overall but was 8-34 from three-point range. Louisville especially confused the Orange with its switching match-up zone early. The Cards made 7 of their first 11 shots and opened up a 14-point lead. But they couldn't keep that offensive roll going, and Syracuse gradually made adjustments to pick up its own offense.

“They’ve got some of the best shooters in the game," Pitino told reporters afterward. "Outside of the end, we did a great job of focusing on Andrew White, because I think he’s the best shooter in college basketball. Even his misses on film go in and out. He’s terrific, their point guard is terrific, (Tyler) Lydon is terrific. Jim (Boeheim) will have them ready for the next one. He’s one of the great ones in our game. My respect for him is off the charts. I hated seeing what he went through. He’s just a great coach and a great guy. I was just thinking, when they announced him as 41 years in a program and people not getting tired of him… I think my town’s tired of me. They're ready for me to retire.”

Pitino showed his team tape of his 2013 NCAA championship team playing defense in the Carrier Dome before Monday's game, hoping to impress upon his players the importance of talking and rotation and help defense. He said they absorbed the lesson.

"The good thing about our defense tonight was we talked and communicated," Pitino said.

About all the Cards didn't do was make free throws. Pitino didn't like it, but he didn't dwell on it.

"With the exception of an airball by Anas, our free-throws were pretty much in and out," he said to Valvano afterward. ". . . But you go 16-30 on the road and win, you've showed some toughness."

For their effort, Pitino will give the Cards a day and a half off. They'll play at home on Saturday against Virginia Tech.

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