Top Story, Men's Basketball

Louisville’s Talent Overpowers Eagles

Following a brief one-game pit stop at the KFC Yum! Center, No. 6 Louisville men’s basketball hit the road again—a trip that would consist of two games in three days. The tough turnaround is just one of the many tests that the Cardinals’ schedule presents. According to RPI’s Feb. 1 rankings, Louisville has the nation’s second-hardest schedule.

But if you look at the Cardinals’ recent performances, it is obvious that head coach Rick Pitino is not using the statistic as an excuse. The last time that Louisville flew out east, Donovan Mitchell exploded for a career-high 29 points in a 55-point smothering of Pittsburgh.

On Saturday, Louisville traveled to Chestnut Hill to take on another conference bottom dweller—Boston College. It took 26 minutes of game time for the Cardinals to pull away from BC. But as soon as Mitchell got going, the Eagles couldn’t buy a stop. Louisville went on to score 51 points in the second half, capping off a 90-67 victory.

Right from the start, things weren’t looking up for head coach Jim Christian’s crew. Of late, BC’s (9-15, 2-9 Atlantic Coast) offense has been led by Jerome Robinson, Ky Bowman, and Jordan Chatman. All three of them missed their first shots.

Robinson and Bowman’s misses carried a lot more meaning than just a dent in the box score. Both underclassmen guards were rejected at the rim by Anas Mahmoud and Deng Adel respectively. Louisville (19-4, 7-3) was sending a message: it owned the paint.

That, it did. Mahmoud (7-foot), Mangok Mathiang (6-foot-10), Ray Spalding (6-foot-10), and Jaylen Johnson (6-foot-9) dominated the interior on both ends of the court. Defensively, they disrupted BC’s inside penetration. And offensively, they had no trouble bullying BC’s undersized frontcourt, ultimately combining for 36 points. Collectively, Louisville outscored the Eagles 40-28 in the paint.

The Cardinals’ first half success was largely due to the play of Adel. The sophomore forward was showcasing a lethal inside-out game. The team’s third-leading scorer sunk both of his 3-point attempts and didn’t hesitate to take the ball inside. While, Mitchell was having a relatively quiet opening half, Adel was carrying Louisville.

BC found itself trailing by double digits nearing intermission. But suddenly, the Eagles strung together a hopeful offensive run. Bowman and Robinson scored on back-to-back possessions, and Ervins Meznieks, who hadn’t scored all season, drilled a 3-pointer from the wing. Soon, the Eagles pulled within just four points of Louisville.

That’s as close they’d get. The Cardinals scored the final five points of the half and would continue to extend their lead in the second half.

Entering the latter portion of play, BC was shooting just a bit over 30 percent from the field, including 28.6 percent from 3-point land—not much of a surprise, considering that Louisville ranks fifth in the country in 3-point defense.

Statistically, the Eagles improved. But so did their opponent.

The backcourt duo of Bowman and Robinson—which combined for 31 on the day—kept the contest close until the 14-minute mark. BC trailed by 10 points, and it was beginning to find its scoring rhythm. At least it appeared that way.

For the next nine or so minutes, the Eagles struggled mightily to put points on the board. Perhaps they were tuckered out from Louisville’s consistent press defense. Regardless, the Cardinals weren’t waiting for BC to find its groove. In that time frame, they outscored the Eagles 27-9.

Mitchell complemented Adel, creating an effective one-two punch. The reigning ACC Player of the Week poured in 15 second-half points, giving him 19 on the day. Without him putting up numbers, the Cardinals were winning. With him, they were steam-rolling.

As time wound down, BC countered with garbage-time points. Chatman, who was held scoreless in the first, tallied 10 points in the final portion of play. Reserve Mike Sagay chipped in six points, three of which came on an and-one conversion. But, for the Eagles, those baskets were trivial.

Saturday marked the fifth time this season that Louisville has scored at least 90 points. It was also the seventh time the Eagles conceded 80 or more points—of those seven games, BC has only won once.

If you ask Pitino, the Eagles’ path to winning runs through recruiting.

“No matter how well they [BC] overachieve as they are, they’ve got to get players as good as Louisville, as good as Duke, as good as North Carolina, and then they’ll be ready to compete,” Pitino said. “And it just takes a little time.”

As far as Christian is concerned, it’s much simpler.

“If you want to be good, that’s the level [Louisville’s], the effort level, we need to play with,” he said. “We didn’t play nearly hard enough to compete with Louisville.”

Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Staff

February 4, 2017