CRAWFORD | Cards don't sizzle, but do deliver in Mack's debut
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville has added some pyrotechnics to its pregame introductions. Lasers on the court. Fireworks shooting from the basket supports.
The in-game firepower is still to come.
For only the third time in 47 years, U of L introduced a (non-interim) head coach for his debut. The other two guys are Hall of Famers. Chris Mack became the latest name, and those are big shoes and high expectations to fill. But fortunately for him, it doesn’t have to be done in one night.
Louisville outlasted a determined and foul-prone Nicholls State team 85-72 Thursday night in the KFC Yum! Center. But it was not pretty.
"We have a long way to go," Mack said. "Give (Nicholls) credit for playing fearless and playing aggressive. We got it to 14, and their kids kept battling. And we have to get a lot better in a hurry, and hopefully tonight was a little dose of reality for some of our guys."
The Cardinals opened 14-point leads in both halves, but couldn’t extend. Nicholls State, meanwhile, stayed in the game with three-pointers, making 11 of them. At the final TV timeout, with 3:34 left, Louisville was up only 68-63.
Mack took over a team and a program in need of reclamation. The Cardinals are learning his new defensive principles. And they struggled against a team that seemed content to send them to the line. In fact, in the closing minutes, Nicholls put Louisville to the line, making the Cardinals score one at a time, while they scored three.
With 3:03 to play, the Louisville lead was only two, at 68-66.
It wasn’t pretty. But it was a win. Just as all but one of Mack’s four predecessors notched in their opening games. The one exception sat up in the stands on Thursday, Denny Crum had a top-5 team that lost by one point to a Florida team that was picked to finish last in the SEC.
Don’t put too much stock in starts. Crum had the team in the Final Four at season’s end.
Still, when asked how he felt with the first one under his belt, Mack said, "Not very good, to be honest with you. I don't think we played very well. I don't think we were very tough. And we've got tougher games coming. I'm happy that we won. But I'm certainly not happy the way we won. We have to figure it out."
Nicholls had four players foul out, and sent Louisville to the line 55 times, where the Cardinals scored 42 of their points. Its 38 fouls tied the record for most committed by a Louisville opponent.
Louisville was led by Steven Enoch with 17 points. Darius Perry had 14, Jordan Nwora 12 and V.J. King 10. Enoch went 9-for-9 from the line, the best free-throw performance ever by a Louisville player in a debut game, and the best since Wayne Blackhsear went 12-for-12 in an Elite Eight game in 2015.
The Cards owned a 38-30 rebounding edge, and outscored Nicholls State 19-4 on the break.
"I thought early on we had nerves. We had seven turnovers in the first four or five minutes and six for the rest of the game. And those turnovers weren't because of the full-court pressure, but just our ability to catch the ball and pass the ball to one another, probably nerves" Mack said. "I thought we did a much better job taking care of the ball from there on out. Who knows what to expect? That's part of taking over a new program. . . . But there were some occasions on the floor tonight that I didn't like what I saw, with our attention to detail, our toughness on the defensive end and on the glass. But Game 1, we've got to learn from it."
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