BOZICH | Louisville players (and fans) silence NIT disappointment, NKU
After a sluggish first half, the Louisville basketball team fed off an energized KFC Yum! Center crowd to defeat Northern Kentucky Tuesday. The Cards play Middle Tennessee next.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The adults in the room with the University of Louisville basketball team encouraged the group to play in the National Invitation Tournament. On Sunday and Monday the locker room was not filled with confetti and balloons at the thought of playing Northern Kentucky.
So as the Cards welcomed NKU into the KFC Yum! Center Tuesday night the question was basic:
Would David Padgett’s team play?
Pursue every loose ball. Feast on the glass. Share the basketball. Take reasonable shots. Defend with purpose. For 40 minutes. Even if the Cards slipped behind by seven points at halftime.
Yes, they would. There would be no Robert Morris moment. Louisville beat Northern Kentucky, 66-58, to earn a second-round game against Middle Tennessee. Louisville athletic director Vince Tyra said the game would be played here either Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday. A decision is expected from the NIT Wednesday morning, but Tyra said Louisville (21-13) has requested a prime-time game on ESPN.
Deng Adel had 20 points. Ryan McMahon had 10. Six other Cards scored. And a good time was had by the crowd of 9,974, who decided early they would be participants, not spectators, in this victory.
"We owe a big thank you to the fans," Padgett said. "They really gave us some big energy that we needed."
It’s risky and imprecise judging effort from press row. I wouldn’t say the Cardinals gave the Norse Forty Minutes of Hell. More like 17 ½ minutes. But it was enough.
Credit McMahon, Darius Perry (who celebrated his 19th birthday Tuesday by chasing-- tease -- a Sports Center moment) and a thunderous collection of feisty fans who did not want a season that some have characterized as a disappointment to end.
"It was tough," McMahon said. "We felt like we did enough (to make the NCAA Tournament). It was very tough and emotional."
There were certainly stretches where being there looked less than delightful for the Cardinals.
Louisville worked its way through the first quarter, leading 16-15. The Cards plodded their way through the second quarter. It was a slog. Louisville scored only seven points and trailed 30-23. Fans were more perturbed by the officiating than they were by the score. Padgett did not keep his group in the locker room long. They were back on the court with more than five minutes on the halftime clock. Ray Spalding even changed out of his green sneakers.
Something changed in the third quarter. Maybe it was energy from a raucous crowd. Curtains covered the upper arena. It was lower bowl only -- and it certainly seemed as if there were clusters of fans who were not accustomed to sitting on the first floor.
"Definitely saw some different faces," McMahon said. "People were really into it."
They were loud. They were energized. They were not pleased with the officiating – or with the idea of the season concluding with a home loss in the NIT.
Just make certain you give credit to Perry and McMahon. They were active. They were relentless. They were productive. McMahon had a pair of three-pointers for his 10 points, plus two assists and two steals. Perry scored eight with an assist and steal.
"Give Louisville a ton of credit," NKU coach John Brannen said. "I thought in the second half, they really picked up their pressure and showed the high major athleticism and length that they can provide and put on a game."
It was McMahon who knocked loose a steal and rushed the ball down the floor to Perry, who threw one in the face of NKU guard Lavone Holland II with gusto than has not been seen in this building since Donovan Mitchell left town. There were 37 seconds left in the third quarter and Louisville had been playing from behind for most of the previous 20 minutes.
Perry exploded at the rim for a slam that brought every one of his teammates off the bench in an explosion of delight. The replay was shown on the video board at least a dozen times – and that was not enough to satisfy the faithful.
A Top 10 Sports Center moment?
"I hope so," Perry said.
Did it help turn the game in favor of Louisville?
"I do, I do," Perry said. "It got really hyped in there. It helped the team. We took a lot of momentum into the last quarter."
"That was big time," McMahon said. "Birthday boy got some extra help on his hops or something. But he just sprung off the floor and was able to flush it down and the place went nuts."
Oh, the basket also bumped Louisville ahead, 45-44.
They would never trail again, outscoring the visitors 43-28 in the second half.
McMahon made a three. McMahon made a layup. Perry made a layup. Add two free throws by V.J. King and Louisville stretched its lead to 54-44. Padgett's guys took it from there, dialing up enough defensive intensity to force the visitors to miss 42 of 64 shots, including 23 of 28 three-pointers.
"We're happy," Padgett said. "We were resilient in the second half. We've just got to keep playing and go as far as we can in the NIT."
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