LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For the first time since its foundation was blasted from beneath it by federal corruption allegations in September, the University of Louisville basketball team looked like its old self again Tuesday night.

It was a throwback night from the start. The Cardinals couldn’t buy a basket. They missed 13 of their first 16 shots. They went 1-for-12 from three in the first half. But their defense was as good as their offense was bad. It took Southern Illinois 6 ½ minutes to make its first field goal. The Salukis missed their first 11 shots as Louisville, for the first time all season, flashed a 2-3 zone defense and stopped the visitors in their tracks.

It was an honest-to-God rock fight. But soon, the place would begin to really rock.

The Cards have scored plenty of points in their first two games, averaging just a tick under 80 points per game coming in. But they had given up 75 points a game. They gave up so many dribble-drive “blow-bys” in a win over Omaha that they blocked more shots in a game than they had in 14 years.

In this game, however, the defense never faltered, and the offense finally came around. The result was 40 minutes of bliss for interim head coach David Padgett, an 84-42 rout that showed the kind of depth and determination that Louisville will have to exhibit all season to overcome the circumstances that changed the program’s landscape.

“Our guys responded, they bounced back,” Padgett said after the game. “Very, very proud of the way they played tonight. We mixed it up defensively more than we have all year. For the first time out I thought our zone was very, very effective. Our first five was more familiar with it, but even our younger guys came in and did some good things.”

PHOTO GALLERY | Louisville's win over Southern Illinois

SIU coach Barry Hinson, despite missing two starters because of injury, thought his team could do the same as two previous opponents in the KFC Yum! Center, climb back into it in the second half after trailing 29-18 at the half.

Instead, Louisville’s defense held firm, and the offense erupted. The Cards shot 58.8 percent in the second half and made 7 of 14 three-pointers. They turned SIU over in bunches for a 19-5 edge in points off turnovers and a 16-0 edge in fast-break points.

The Cards got 41 points from the five freshmen who played in the game, including 18 from Jordan Nwora, the game’s leading scorer, and 10 points and 7 assists from Darius Perry.

Leading by 34 with just over 6 minutes to play, Padgett used six players who never played for Pitino to finish the game. All that group did was make six straight shots and seven of their final eight, including five consecutive made three-pointers and six of seven to close the game.

As an added bonus, the Cardinals made 14 of 15 free-throws, bringing their team percentage to 80.3 – with freshmen Perry, Nwora and Malik Williams shooting 23-for-24 from the line (95.8 percent). Those three players are accounting for 43 percent of the team’s made free-throws this season.

This little incident was telling. After a technical foul on SIU, Deng Adel trotted toward the line to shoot the free-throws. Darius Perry, who hasn’t missed this season, stepped in and said, “Let me get these.” He hit both, and didn’t graze the rim on either one. He’s now 16-16 on the season.

“I don’t know, I guess they’re just fearless,” Padgett said of the group’s ability to come into the game and make a quick impact. “I think they just really enjoy playing. As a freshman you’ve never played in an environment like this and once you’ve experienced it a couple of times I think you really look forward to it and appreciate it. I think they just get excited for game days and come in and have no fear. They come in and do what they do, they do what they want me to do and they seem to not be afraid of the spotlight. Obviously we haven’t traveled yet, not to get ahead, but I’m sure next Tuesday (at Purdue) will be an eye-opening experience for them.”

INSTANT ANALYSIS: Louisville turns in most complete effort in win over SIU

Perry said that going up against Deng Adel and the other veterans in practice has made the freshman better individually and as a group.

“You can’t help but get better, because they make us look bad a lot,” he said. “We keep improving though, and hold our own once in a while, and that gets us ready for what we’re going to face when we get into games.”

The zone was not the constantly shifting matchup zone the Cards played under Pitino. While it was a match-up, it was a simplified version. Adel said the new players had little trouble picking it up.

“The key to any zone is communicating, and our freshmen are good about that,” Adel said. “it’s similar to the zone we’ve played, but I’d say it’s more like a Syracuse zone than the zone we played the last couple of years. We’ve really been practicing it for about a week and a half and I think guys have done a good job picking it up.”

Padgett has been on his team to do a better job on the defensive boards, and after a couple of early offensive rebounds, his players got the message.

“Team rebounding was the most pleasing thing to me,” Padgett said. “It wasn’t one guy with 14 rebounds. Everybody got in there and mixed it up. . . . If you can get Deng with seven rebounds and V.J. (King) with eight was incredible. Then Jordan comes in and gets eight and Dwayne (Sutton) gets six. You get those rebounds from your guards and it helps immensely.”

The Cards got 16 points from Adel. Ray Spalding had 8 points and 6 rebounds, as did Sutton. King went just 2 of 12 from the field for four points, but grabbed eight rebounds.

I’m not going to say it was just like old times in the KFC Yum! Center Tuesday night. I will say it was as much like old times as we’ve seen since the new day has dawned.

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