LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Being without David Johnson didn’t sound like the most encouraging news the University of Louisville men’s basketball team could share before the Cardinals played Notre Dame on Tuesday night.
This was the news after the game: Louisville 69, Notre Dame 57.
"One-through-12, we needed to step up," U of L forward Malik Williams said. "I think we got that tonight. Five guys in double figures, 14 offensive rebounds."
With Johnson, U of L's second-leading scorer, sidelined by a non-coronavirus illness, the Cardinals won with balance. Five players indeed scored in double figures, led by Carlik Jones (18 points) and the dual production of Jae'Lyn Withers (12 points, 13 rebounds) and Samuell Williamson (12 points, eight rebounds).
"We competed for a full 40 minutes compared to our last game, when we competed for the first few minutes and then gave in and gave up," said Jones, who played the entire game
It wasn’t the kind of win that should inspire an Eric Wood postgame celebratory video, but it was a win the Cardinals needed to stop their slide in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
It was a reasonable response from the Cards' 45-point loss at North Carolina last weekend. They improved to 12-5, 7-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cards gained eight spots in Ken Pomeroy's computer power formula, climbing to No. 43.
After the loss at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Louisville arrived home after midnight. The team practiced for nearly 2½ hours Sunday and had a shorter but intense practice Monday.
"I wouldn't say we forgot about the (North Carolina) game, but we put it behind us," Jones said.
U of L coach Chris Mack said he received a text message at noon Tuesday from trainer Fred Hina, who informed him that Johnson had a temperature and was not feeling well. He was tested for COVID-19, but that came back negative.
"It's been wild to say the least," Mack said. "Who knows? We'll figure out what he has and probably lose somebody to the Spanish Flu in the next few days."
Back to the encouraging news: In his second game back from missing the last three months with a broken foot, Williams played 26 minutes. He contributed 10 rebounds, scored 6 points and earned praise for his work directing the Cardinals' defense.
"I think 26 minutes is a good bounce back," Williams said. "It's coming. It's coming along. I know I can't go out there and play 40 (minutes) right now. But I feel good."
Notre Dame struggled with Louisville’s length. The Fighting Irish made less than a third of their shots in the first half, missing their first six shots from distance. They shot 37% for the game and missed 21 of 28 shots from distance.
Nate Laszewski, Notre Dame’s leading scorer, failed to score in the opening half. He also tumbled to the court on his left hip on the final play of the first half. Laszewski finished with 2 points (on free throws), 13 under his average.
"I thought Jae'Lyn had a lot to do with that," Mack said.
Louisville led the entire game. Notre Dame closed to within five points, 56-51, with about six minutes to play, but Williamson fed an offensive rebound to Jones, who stuck a 3-pointer.
"He had great presence of mind to find Carlik, who hit a dagger shot," Mack said.
After a Notre Dame air ball, Louisville scored on its next two possessions to stretch its lead to a dozen.
The Cards have three games remaining on their regular-season schedule, starting with a trip to Durham, North Carolina, on Saturday to face Duke.
Louisville defeated Duke, 70-65, on Jan. 23 at the KFC Yum! Center, but the Blue Devils have won four straight to play their way back into NCAA Tournament consideration.
"We've got work to do," Williams said.
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