A 15-minute streak of sharp-shooting helped Louisville put away Boston College.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Louisville coach Chris Mack almost sounded a little sheepish after watching his team give up a 23-point lead and have to fight late just to hold onto an 80-70 victory over Boston College Wednesday night in the KFC Yum! Center.
Sure, everybody can laugh about it now, but things got a little tense for a minute as the visiting Eagles (9-7, 0-4 ACC) put together a 20-2 run.
Mack didn’t outright put it on himself, but he did put it on himself a little bit, and that’s all right. Heck, any coach who does that with any level of sincerity deserves respect, not blame. Of course, that gets a little easier to do when you’re a clubhouse leader for ACC coach of the year, but it’s not easy for anybody, really.
“Well, life in a new league for me, in the ACC,” Mack said. “I thought, for a stretch, our guys were rolling. Thought we were playing well, the run that we had to end the half, and then carried over. You give Boston College credit. They changed defenses, and we obviously didn't handle it very well. It became a tight game down the stretch.”
Boston College went to a three-quarter court trapping defense that bothered Louisville a bit. No, edit that. It bothered Louisville a lot.
It wasn’t anything fancy. Just trapping pressure, forcing the Louisville guards to make decisions with the ball under duress. The Cardinals had made 19 of their previous 24 shots. BC coach Jim Christian had to try something. He told reporters after the game that it should’ve looked familiar to them.
“I think we picked up our pressure. We turned them over,” he said. “We pressed them, we trapped them, we forced some turnovers and it led to some baskets. That's what happens. You guys are asking me, you've seen it for 15, 17 years before - you've seen pressure. That's what it looks like.”
Yes. Now that you mention it, I do recall something like that before.
The real problem wasn’t that Louisville couldn’t handle it, even if it didn’t. The problem was that it got caught with some personnel on the court that weren’t entirely ready for it. Louisville turned it over four times in the game’s final 9:55, and even when it wasn’t turning it over, the Cards were slow to attack BC in the half court.
“We talked about attacking versus their three-quarter-court press,” Mack said. “We had a few guys in that hadn't played a whole lot up until that point — that's what got their run going. It was indecisiveness, we didn't run or attack, and that sort of spilled over to the guys who started the game as well. Fortunately, we were able to break out of it. We have to be better. . . . It’s a tough situation. . . . You want to run clock, but you also want to be able to get an efficient offensive possession, a good look, and we didn't always get that. We turned the ball over and got rattled a few times versus their pressure, and they got a little bit of momentum.”
Still, in the end, the Cardinals responded. Christen Cunningham waded in toward the basket and got to the free-throw line. Jordan Nwora hit a three.
“I give our guys credit for being able to withstand a heck of a push and a heck of a run by BC and still have the fortitude and calm enough nerves to make a few shots and get a few stops in the last four minutes,” Mack said.
Nwora was fantastic. He scored a career-high 32 points. The Cards scored on 70.2 possessions when he was on the court. Mack said it was as good an offensive performance as he’s seen one of his players have, and he’s had some good ones.
But Mack wanted, instead, to talk about other facets of Nwora’s game.
“I want to talk about Jordan's defense, first and foremost,” Mack said. “I think everyone recognizes what a talented player he is on the offensive end. . . . But on the defensive end, he got switched onto (Boston College leading scorer) Ky Bowman more than a handful of times. And I don't think Bowman ever went around him to the point where it was an uncontested layup. As I've told him, he's played marginal players a heck of a lot worse than that. Guys that maybe average 5, 6 points a game go right down the lane and score on him. And I didn't see that tonight. He was also a big part of our help defense, because he wasn't necessarily guarding one of their primary scorers, and I thought he did a really good job of recognizing when to help one on the five men rolling. His closeouts kept the ball in front. Really, really pleased with how he played defensively.”
So the Cards are 3-1 now in the ACC, and are an overtime loss away from being 4-0. Everybody knows, the schedule is back-loaded. But Louisville is improving, and may pack a load of its own in some games that nobody expected them to win early in the season.
Handling success can be difficult. Mack is hoping his team learns to deal with it.
“I think we learned a tough lesson at Pitt, I felt like Pitt played harder than our team. You can throw the names out, past records, who's coaching; the team that has the hungrier disposition on any given night is going to put themselves in a position to win. I felt like our mindset versus Pitt's mindset, were two very different levels. I don't think that has been the case the last two games. We have to continue that. With success, people pat you on the butt. Compliment you. Tell you "wow, what a game" I can imagine our guys are hearing it on campus fifty times more than I am because I just stay in my office and watch film. They have to maintain that hunger and play with it on the defensive end."
The pressure, you see, won’t stop coming. But Louisville, with each game, looks a little bit better prepared to meet it.
RYAN MCMAHON UPDATE: The junior guard was at the bottom of a pile scrambling after a loose ball in the final minute of the victory and was having trouble putting weight on his left leg as trainer Fred Hina helped him off the court. Mack said he hadn't been fully briefed on McMahon's condition, but his understanding was that it isn't too serious.
"They landed on his lower leg," Mack said. "I don't think it's anything too concerning. He was asking, 'Hey Fred can I play tomorrow?' So that's always a good sign. Other than that, I don't really know a whole lot. I haven't talked to Ryan, talked to Fred, he felt like he should be okay. As with any injury you just got to see what happens over a good night's sleep."
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