LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It feels strange to type this, but it's true, so there's nothing to do but let it rip: In the No. 5-ranked Louisville basketball team's 78-55 victory over Youngstown State in its 2019-20 home opener, junior point guard Darius Perry was the most efficient player on the court.
Raise your hand if you thought that would be the case. That it is increasingly becoming the case bodes very well for the Cardinals.
Perry scored 10 points, dished out 12 assists and had only one turnover on Sunday. He played 27 minutes, during which the Cardinals outscored Youngstown State by 19. He drew more fouls than any player on the team, and was the second-best defensive rebounder and best defender.
"Best game he’s played since I've been head coach," Louisville coach Chris Mack said. "Great to see. I’m really happy for Darius. I think he did it on both ends of the floor. He had the biggest challenge, guarding their top returning scorer and assist leader, really the guy who leads them in everything in (Darius) Quisenberry. So Darius had that challenge. And his assist-to-turnover, to go 12 and 1, is phenomenal. He did a great job."
When a staff makes a point to bring in graduate transfers for two straight years, you know they want to hedge their bets when it comes to players already at the position. And with Perry, you can understand it. No one questioned his talent, but his decision-making was erratic last season, his turnover numbers were far too high, and even though he could be a great asset, he couldn’t take full advantage because of his liabilities.
“Sometimes last season,” center Steven Enoch said, “he played with his head on fire.”
What you’re seeing now is the result of a guy who spent the entire offseason looking to address his liabilities. In a word, he said that the focus of his improvement has been poise.
“I didn’t try to change my game a whole lot,” Perry said. “The biggest thing was just playing with poise and staying under control.”
The result, in just a two-game sample, has been a promising one for Louisville. The Cards tipped off their home schedule Sunday by not missing a shot for seven minutes. They went 11-for-11 to open the game and charged out to a 24-8 lead.
Youngstown State coach Jerrod Calhoun said the game plan was to double-team elsewhere but leave Perry and transfer point guard Lamarr Kimble open. The pair combined for 17 assists and one turnover, though Kimble went 0-6 from the field.
“There’s just so many guys out there who can shoot the ball,” Youngstown State coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “That’s their biggest strength. I don’t know if there’s a team out there that shoots it like these guys. So they came out and made every shot.”
They would cool down over the course of the half, though, and were outscored 10-0 in the final minutes before half.
“We got off to a good shooting start, and I think sometimes that becomes fool’s gold to your team,” Mack said. “Because now you don’t have to necessarily work the ball to the right positions. You don’t have to be as patient with ball movement and cutting, because it’s going in. And then it didn’t. And we looked very stagnant on offense. And so, we have to know that our offense isn’t based on making shots. It’s the shots that we’re creating. I thought a good majority of those were good ones, but toward the end of that 11 in a row, I thought we were taking some tougher ones. They went in, but that can trick you into thinking you’re really hard to stop. We need to generate really, really good shots.”
Youngstown State couldn’t match up with Steven Enoch. He had 17 points and 14 rebounds. The Cardinals outscored the Penguins by 30 when he was on the court. He also collected 23 percent of the game’s rebounds for the 29 minutes he was on the court.
Louisville also got a 21-point effort from Jordan Nwora, though he didn’t reprise his double-digit rebound performance from Miami, finishing with just six boards. Ryan McMahon added 16 points. The Cardinals shot 50.8 percent from the field and made 7 of 22 three-pointers. They dished out 22 assists – but again were outrebounded (46-38) and gave up 19 offensive rebounds to a smaller team.
“That’s just way too many offensive rebounds to give up,” Mack said. “I’ve always prided our programs’ ability to not give up second shots. We have to get much better in that area. It starts with being able to contain the ball on dribble penetration, so that defensive rebounders are in solid positions to block out. And then there’s a little bit of toughness element to it. We’re very early into the season. We are far from a finished product. I know this: We have to get much better in that area. I give Youngstown State a lot of credit. I talked to a rival coach in their league and he had nothing but good things to say about them. He talked about them being a team that was very, very tough and a together and experienced group. We had a lot of respect for those guys, but we didn’t have much respect when the shot went up.”
Youngstown shot 31.3 percent and made just 5 of 25 threes. Callhoun, a former assistant to Bob Huggins at West Virginia, was impressed with what he saw.
“What makes (Louisville) really good is they know who they are,” he said. “Their guys don’t get out of their box. . . . I think what Chris has been able to do with their staff, he was thrown into a difficult situation, and this is a team that’s got a chance to win a national championship.”
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