BROOKLYN, N.Y. (WDRB) – There is an opponent even more fearsome than the No. 1-ranked University of Virginia basketball team that Louisville will face Thursday in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals in the Barclays Center.

It reared its head in the final 10 minutes of the Cardinals’ 82-74 victory over Florida State Wednesday, and it’s so dangerous because it can take root even when things are going well, like they were when the Cardinals had a 26-point lead with just under 12 minutes to play.

Call it what you want: fear, worry, panic, doubt. It’s negative thinking. It’s the “here-we-go-again” inkling that comes when you stumble late and lose games you feel you should’ve won.

For Louisville, the enemy was at the gates, on the court and in the huddle, down the stretch with Florida State having cut its deficit to eight points. The good news for Louisville is that the players and coaches realized it, to a degree, and defeated it.

“We didn’t panic today,” Louisville interim coach David Padgett said. “Our guys did a great job.”

Senior Anas Mahmoud wasn’t so sure about that panic assessment.

“He was nervous. We all were,” Mahmoud said. “I was thinking on the bench, ‘Oh my God, not this situation again.’ We had a timeout, and he was definitely panicking, we all were, and then Ryan (McMahon) was the one, he said, ‘Guys we’re up eight points, there’s 1:30 left. Just get some stops and we will win the game.’ He’s laughing over there (Mahmoud pointed to McMahon in the locker room) because he knows. But that’s the thing, panicking too much is crucial in those points, because you start losing focus on what you need to do. And DP was like, ‘Ryan you’re right. We’re good. We just need to take a deep breath and do what we need to do.’ And boom, we won the game.”

Mahmoud went on, “I think (Padgett) handled the panicking situation really well with all of us. Losing to Virginia like we did last week, last second, it never leaves your mind. I think I’m going to be thinking like that the rest of my life now, every time I get in a situation, ‘Oh my God, not Virginia again.’ It doesn’t happen often, but it always stays in your head.”

GALLERY | Louisville's win over Florida State in the ACC Tournament 

Padgett said he knew his team was on edge. He said he actually was nervous at halftime, after McMahon’s buzzer-beating three-pointer but the Cardinals up 19.

“I get 100 times more nervous about games like that when you have a big lead, especially at halftime, than actually if you’re down,” Padgett said. “If we’re tied or down at the half I’m actually more calm, but those are tough, because you know the other team is going to make a run. They made some very good adjustments in the second half, especially against our zone, and hit some key shots at some crucial times.”

A lot of attention will be paid to how Louisville ended this game, particularly after what happened when it lost a four-point lead with 0.9 seconds to play against Virginia last week. But what shouldn’t be forgotten was what happened at the beginning of what would become U of L’s first-ever ACC Tournament win.

Louisville has built double-digit leads against some pretty good teams this season, only to see them evaporate.

“It’s a next step for us,” junior forward Ray Spalding said, “learning how to finish games.”

But when the Cards are executing well offensively and playing good defense, they can be impressive.

They picked Florida State apart in the first half on Wednesday, and against a team that is No. 2 in the ACC in turnovers forced, committed only nine turnovers in the game.

“I thought in the first half Louisville did a great job of maintaining their poise and executing on the offensive end,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They were extremely patient, and they executed so well, and we had a hard time making them miss.”

In the second half, once they were down big, FSU had some success speeding the game up, and Louisville committed a few turnovers and missed a few shots. But the big thing was FSU heating up from three-point range.

More than any Louisville errors, the Seminoles threw an effective counterpunch, outscoring Louisville 31-16 over the final 11 minutes. They made 17 of their final 24 shots, after making only 10 field goals in the first 25 minutes of the game. Louisville made 11 of 20 in the same span, and its ability to find and make midrange jumpers and shots at the rim allowed it to escape.

“We did a good job of running our press break offense and getting the ball into the right person’s hands,” Padgett said. “We just made good decisions. We stayed confident. We didn’t panic when it got close. And fortunately we’ve been in this situation a lot before, it just hasn’t always turned out in our favor. But tonight it did, so we’re very happy with that.”

Maybe Louisville has fought off the doubt that comes with losing leads. But dealing with Virginia on Thursday at noon will provide a definitive test.

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