LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – With this Deng Adel, the University of Louisville basketball team can go places.

With this Deng Adel, whose passing is an offensive catalyst when he’s on his game, teams can’t be sure he’s going to force the ball to the rim every time he drives it at the basket. With this Adel, open shooters begin to get the ball in positions to do damage. With this Adel, opponent offensive rebounding becomes more difficult.

On Saturday in the KFC Yum! Center, Adel scored a career-high 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting, pulled down a season-best 11 rebounds, and called the dagger shot in an impressive 94-86 victory over Virginia Tech. But that wasn't all. It was Adel's unselfishness on offense and his constant creation for teammates that helped the offense look as impressive as it has all season.

The victory boosted Louisville to 3-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play, the third time in four years in the league that they’ve won three out of their first four conference games.

“He looked like the pro that he is,” sophomore Ryan McMahon said. “Hopefully a lot of people see that game and realize the payer that he is. He’s had some tough games this year where he’s been putting the team on his back and doing whatever he can to win, but he’s really coming into his own and figuring out how to do that successfully.”

Turns out, putting the team on his back involves getting the ball into more people’s hands. The more he facilitates, the better Louisville looks offensively.

After matching a career-high five assists in a 16-point effort at Florida State, he dished out three assists against Virginia Tech, and made a career-high 10 shots, including 4-6 from three-point range.

“He played very, very well,” Louisville coach David Padgett said. “We built on Florida State, offensively. We didn’t settle for good shots when we could get great shots. . . . He’s just letting the game come to him, not forcing things. He’s playing how you would expect a junior of his caliber to play.”

Padgett even took a page from Denny Crum’s playbook, looking for some opportunities to post up Adel against smaller guards, and probably will do that more often.

But it’s Adel’s improved decision-making lately that has his numbers trending upward.

“A lot of it is seeing what the defense does,” Adel said. “If they back off, then I have to take that shot, because they’re not going to respect the jump shot. But a lot of it is just reading the plays and reading the pick-and-rolls and, if your teammate is open, just making the right basketball plays. I’m a basketball player and I pride myself on making the right decisions. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it, but I think I have another gear. I’ve been turning the ball over too much in ACC play, but it’s all a learning process and I think I have another gear in my decision making.”

This was a back-and-forth game in which neither team could get much separation until Louisville grabbed a 10-point lead with less than a minute to play. Determined not to allow a repeat of Virginia Tech’s 17 three-pointers in the KFC Yum! Center a year ago, the Cardinals pressed out on defense in the half-court, but wound up giving up 40 points in the paint as a result.

“Sometimes you have to pick your poison,” Padgett said.

But Louisville dosed out some poison of its own. Adel made four three pointers, Quentin Snider had three and McMahon and V.J. King each went 2-3 from beyond the arc. Louisville’s 13-23 shooting from three-point range was just one made three short of it season-high.

The last three, perhaps, was the most exciting. Just above the key and to the right, McMahon got the ball, took a jab step and didn’t hesitate, burying a deep three with 2:31 to play to break open a close game and give Louisville an 8-point lead with 2:31 to play. It was his second huge late-game three from deep, and he didn’t hesitate.

He threw both arms in the air and smiled, then after a Virginia Tech score, drove the lane and dished to Ray Spalding for a dunk and the Cards were on their way.

What fans didn’t see was moments before the play that resulted in McMahon’s three, Adel telling him that he was going to get an open look.

“I called that, right?” he shouted over to McMahon after the game, smiling wide. “He does that. We see it in practice. He gets a little daylight and if he gets it off, you know it’s going in.”

It’s funny the difference a couple of games can make. Louisville left an overtime loss at Clemson smarting, feeling it had let one get away. People were asking if it could win a tough road game. Then it came from 17 down to end the nation’s third longest home-court winning streak at Florida State, and now there’s a confident air about this team, as if some ice has been broken. While this was a back-and-forth kind of game, Louisville wound up leading for better than 25 minutes.

“The other night was huge, no question,” Padgett said of the FSU win. “I’m not going to say we lacked confidence that we could get a great win on the road, but we hadn’t gotten it yet and now that we’ve got it, we were able to turn a corner and build on it.”

The Cards shot 52.5 percent from the field and in addition to Adel’s big scoring night got 19 points from Quentin Snider, who went 8-8 from the free-throw line and 3-6 from the three-point line. King had 16 points on 5-9 shooting and McMahon finished with 10.

“Their style of play is similar (to a year ago), but there are some distinct differences,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said of Louisville. “I think (Spalding) gets more touches and (Mahmoud.)”

The Cardinals forced 19 turnovers, which they turned into 20 points, and while they committed 16 turnovers of their own their 17 assists were second-most in a game this season, testament to the improved passing in recent games. Moreover, the Cards persevered in this game despite serious foul trouble that limited Spalding to just six points in 16 minutes.

“Now we get to enjoy this for a few hours before we get ready to go to place (Notre Dame) where we’ve never won before,” Padgett said. “If you’d told me our first road game against an unranked team would’ve been at Notre Dame, I’d have laughed at you. They’re really good.”

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