LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — They say college basketball is a man's game as well as a guard's game.
Take your pick. Either one applies to Florida State's jarring 78-65 victory over Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday afternoon.
In his 48-second opening statement, Louisville coach Chris Mack said that the Seminoles were "by far" the tougher team. Mack said the Cardinals' guards got "pushed around."
Manhandled is another word that Mack used. In case you were not paying attention, Mack used "manhandled" twice.
I was paying attention. And I don't believe that Mack was practicing coach hyperbole while trying to inspire the improvement that his four backcourt guys will have to deliver if the Cardinals expect to contend at the top level of the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.
Mack is a coach who values toughness. He would rather drink 10-week-old milk than say that his guards were manhandled.
But they were manhandled.
"I thought for, really, the entire game they were the tougher team," Mack said. "Our inability to keep the ball out of the lane, especially in the second half, killed us."
This is how a manhandling unfolds: with Florida State's guards taking the basketball wherever they chose to take it without fear or hesitation from the game's opening dribbles.
Leonard Hamilton, the FSU coach, loves big guards with long arms and tremendous first-step quickness. He learned that from his mentor, former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall, who made a special trip to downtown Louisville to visit Hamilton on Friday night.
"I can't say enough about the relationship we were able to establish during that run (at UK)," Hamilton said.
In M.J. Walker, who is 6 feet, 5 inches tall; Trent Forrest, 6-5, and Devin Vassell, 6-6, Hamilton has the guards of his dreams.
Mack had one guard as large as that trio — David , a freshman for whom Mack is determined to get more minutes.
Forrest, Vassell and Walker punished Louisville for 40 minutes. They combined for 57 points. They made 9 of 14 shots from distance. They contributed 10 rebounds.
This is the ACC. Florida State will not be the last team Louisville plays that will attack and defend the Cardinals with taller, quicker and more athletic players.
Mack will have to create an answer — or at least a counter — with his rotation of Fresh Kimble (3 for 11, three turnovers), Darius Perry (2 for 7, no assists), Ryan McMahon (1 for 5, 0 for 3 from distance) and Johnson (2 for 9, three turnovers).
"We have to be a lot tougher," Mack said. "We're not going to correct our height. It's going to be what it is.
"But we could have done a much better job and needed to have done a much better job of not letting players get to their spots so close to the rim and shoot right over the top of us," he added. "If we had done a better job of whipping a few of the screens so the angle wasn't given to them to get in the lane, then their shots would have been a little further out."
Louisville forward Jordan Nwora was the game's leading scorer with 32 points. But make no mistake, the Florida State guards controlled this basketball game.
Mack said so after the game. He also said it during the game by switching his team out of man-to-man defense into zone because the Louisville backcourt was unable to control Forrest, Vassell and Walker on an individual basis.
As relentless as they were on offense, the Florida State guards caused significant problems on defense, too.
Mack altered his lineup, giving Kimble his first start while moving McMahon to the bench, perhaps a response to Kimble's solid play at Kentucky a week ago.
As a group, all of Mack's guards struggled against FSU. None of the four came close to making half of their field-goal attempts.
As a group, they shot 25%, missing 24 of 32 shots. They were 2 of 10 from distance. Their turnovers (eight) outnumbered their assists. Piggybacked on a bland performance against Kentucky, Louisville's guards now become a group to watch in ACC play.
"I think that we didn't do anything really differently, other than we do try to recruit long, athletic perimeter players," Hamilton said. "I though they did a very good job of defending each one of their sets."
No surprise then that Florida State pushed ahead, 31-30 (on a driving score by Walker), with 2:46 left in the first half. That was the beginning of a surge that saw the Seminoles score 10 of the final 12 points of the half.
Louisville never led again.
Florida State built its first 10-point lead five minutes into the second half. Louisville cut it to 5. Vassell, one of those pesky FSU guards, scored.
Nwora played with more of an edge, getting to the basket for a driving layup to cut the Florida State lead to 54-51.
Vassell, Walker and Forrest scored 11 off the game's next 14 points to push the Seminoles back to a 10-point lead, 65-55. From that point Louisville never got closer than 8.
Vassell, Walker and Forrest scored 20 of Florida State's final 26 points. They played with confidence. They played with control.
"I think that our guys showed a level of confidence," Hamilton said. "Each time the game got close, we stepped up and made big shots, executed very well, moved the ball and made the extra pass and played tremendously unselfish.
"More than anything else, played with a lot of confidence."
This needs to be a "Get Well" week for Mack's team to regain its momentum and swagger. Miami visits Tuesday. The Hurricanes do not have physical guards that can dominate a game. Louisville dominated the Hurricanes in Miami.
Then comes a trip to Notre Dame on Saturday. There is nothing spectacular about Mike Brey's backcourt. This is not one of those Notre Dame teams like the Elite Eight squads of 2015 and 2016.
"Our guards have to be a lot better," Mack said.
And stop getting manhandled.
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