SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WDRB) — It was a familiar script, but at least the University of Louisville men's basketball team is writing some decent endings.
The Cardinals took a 16-point lead late in the first half of Saturday's game at Notre Dame, then lost it and then found a flourish at the end in the form of a couple of Dwayne Sutton 3-pointers to escape the Joyce Center with a 67-64 victory.
Louisville had little trouble getting to its early lead, creating good shots and frustrating the Irish on defense. But late in the first half, the Cards got in a bit of an offensive hurry, Notre Dame cashed in on three easy baskets on out-of-bounds plays, and Louisville's chance to pull away had been lost.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey turned to a four-guard lineup, found some offense and woke up the arena. But it wasn't quite enough.
It also wasn't quite like past lost leads for the Cardinals. While they may have taken a few ill-advised shots once getting up big, they also missed a ton of shots in close, post attempts by centers Steven Enoch and Malik Williams that generally go in. Notre Dame got hot about the time Louisville went cold, and it took a defensive adjustment by coach Chris Mack to create the winning opportunity down the stretch.
“I loved the way we finished the game,” Mack said. “I know everybody’s going to point to other things, but this team needed to figure out a way to be able to cut through some adversity. We haven’t been able to do that. I thought a couple of our guys just played like experienced players in a tough game – Dwayne Sutton in particular. Big cojones right there, or however you pronounce it.”
The Cardinals led by 12 at the break but went the final 1:25 minutes of the half without a field goal, a drought that continued for its first eight shots of the second half, and Notre Dame pulled even.
But sloppy offense wasn't the culprit this time.
"I really appreciate you pointing that out," Mack said. "People are going to say, ‘When is Mack going to run offense?’ We got a 2-foot shot. Maybe I’ve got to figure out a way to get a 1-foot shot. We couldn’t score at the rim. I don’t want our team to become a jump-shooting team — where it’s just a question of, if we’re on, we’re on. So we’re going to put it all together. Moments like tonight, when you can do the job when the chips are down, should give us confidence."
Steven Enoch was just 1 for 8 from the field, and Malik Williams was 3 for 8.
"Steve din’t play very well," Mack said. "He’d be the first to tell you. He’s under the weather. I don’t know if it’s a stomach bug or what it is. He did a couple of things defensively that he hasn’t done all year. ... He wasn’t himself. Malik, I thought, played a great game defensively. Did a good job on (John) Mooney defensively, did a good job on ball screens and guarding them. He’s got to finish better. We don’t want to be a team that plays around the 3-point line."
Notre Dame found its offensive rhythm to take the lead in the second half, before Mack countered by having Williams switch on ball screens, which seemed to slow the Irish down.
The Irish led led by four when Lamar Kimble scored on a layup with about 5 minutes to play, then Sutton hit a 3-pointer after a stop. Following another Notre Dame 3, Sutton hit a second 3 of his own, and Louisville wouldn't trail again.
Sutton has shot the 3 fairly well this season, though he hadn't in recent games. Asked if he'd been frustrated from the outside, Mack said, "I don't know. He’s like a robot. He doesn’t give you much emotion. He just says, ‘Yes sir.’ So if you ask him if he was frustrated, he’d probably say, ‘Yes sir.’ But man, he’s a warrior. And I don’t say that because he made two 3s. I’m happy for him. But he does everything you ask as a coach and you guys know that who follow us."
The Cards also got a big offensive game from Ryan McMahon, who it a flurry of first-half 3s to help stake them to their big lead, before Notre Dame shut the door in the second half. McMahon scored on back-to-back driving layups to force a Notre Dame timeout in the first half, and smiled when asked about it afterward.
"I don't think that's ever happened, honestly," McMahon said. "And I was surprised at one point, because I had shot more twos than 3s. ... A couple of guys on their team said, 'When did you start shooting 2s.' . . . I've been shooting it so well and with so much confidence, I never felt like I was in a slump. I just felt like I was unlucky."
In the 27 minutes McMahon was on the court, Louisville was plus-21. Mack said that after Notre Dame had been a heavy zone team in the previous several games, the Irish stayed man-to-man, largely he guessed because of McMahon.
"Ryan is a game-changer," Mack said. "He doesn’t get left (defensively), so he’s got to find his spots in transition. The game got a little slow in the second half and it was a lot of Notre Dame set play, Louisville set play, and back and forth. He’s hard to free sometimes. He’s not going to get lost against smart, disciplined teams."
Louisville was led by Jordan Nwora with 20 points. McMahon finished with 17 points and Sutton 10. Nwora was an important leadership presence throughout the game, rallying his teammates several times. He also was the primary ball defender on Notre Dame's last possession, when the Irish were working to try to find a 3-pointer to tie the game.
"They're really good and executed big-time stuff," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "... You’ve got to give them credit, they’re really good and Sutton drilled two big ones. ... We wanted to run a ball screen (on the last possession) But we lost it before the final possession. The game was freaking over. Sutton broke our back.”
Of Nwora's defense, McMahon said: "Jordan was all over the place. Anybody that questions how much he wants to win or how hard he plays, they’re not right. He was getting on us about getting stops the whole second half. The leadership he showed tonight shows his growth as a player and a person."
The win was Louisville's second straight, and boosted their record to 13-3 overall and 4-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They'll visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday night before a trip to Duke next Saturday.
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