After a long and exhausting five overtime loss at Notre Dame this past Saturday, the No.12 Louisville Cardinals (20-5, 8-4) got back to their winning ways by putting away the St. John’s Red Storm (15-10, 7-6) by a score of 72-58 in the friendly confines of the KFC Yum Center.
Junior guard Russ Smith, who was scrutinized for his poor shooting in the loss at Notre Dame, once again took the reins of the Cardinal machine and led them on multiple spurts that ultimately knocked the wind from the Red Storm sails. Smith, who only had three points at halftime, took control in the second half and scored 12 points straight over a three minute stretch that put the Cards back on top for good. In a game a spurts by both teams that had five lead changes, it was Smith’s crucial twelve points during a 14-5 Cardinal run that put them back on top 46-38. The Red Storm trailed 32-23 at halftime. St. Johns opened up the second half on a 10-0 run to take a 33-32 lead.
After the media time out at 14:51 remaining, Wayne Blackshear drew a foul and hit both free throws to put Louisville back on top 35-33. St. John’s ensuing possession was a missed jumper by Jakarr Sampson that led to a fast break three-point basket by Smith on an assist by Peyton Siva. The Red Storm, feeling the momentum shifting called a thirty second time out. Coming out of the time out Sampson missed another jump shot that was rebounded by Smith. The Cards’ Gorgui Dieng missed a lay-up which was followed by an offensive rebound and missed tip in by Montrezl Harrell however St. Johns was unable to cash in any points as Chris Obekpa rebounded the ball and got it to Phil Greene IV who in turn missed an open jumper. Dieng then skied for one of his career best 17 rebounds and found Smith for another three-pointer to push the lead to 40-33. Nail, meet coffin.
Smith finished with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists and the Cardinals dominated the points in the paint 32-16. More importantly they out-rebounded St. Johns 45-37. Smith was not the only player that had a much better performance than last Saturday’s disappointing game as Peyton Siva added 12 points with 4 rebounds and 6 assists and played very solid. Dieng had 10 points to go along with his 17 boards and Chane Behanan, coming off a career high of 30 points and 15 rebounds against the Irish, chipped in 10 points and 8 rebounds to help pace the Cards who climbed into a three way tie for second place with No.16 Pittsburgh and No.21 Notre Dame in the Big East with the win. An uncanny stat was that both teams shot 37% (23 of 62) but Louisville's inside dominance and Russ Smith's 12 of 14 shooting from the foul line, along with some big time turnovers helped the Cardinals pull away in what looked at one time to be a very tough game.
Despite the poor shooting, the Cardinals dominated points in the paint 32-16 in large part due to dunks by Behanan and Blackshear. In usual Louisville fashion, the Cards more than doubled up their opponent in points off turnovers 15-6 and fast break points, 13-2. Louisville looked like a team tonight that could definitely make some noise in the NCAA Tournament and with the easiest part of their murderous schedule coming up, they will need to make sure to cash in on the opportunities and pull off some more marquee wins in their road game versus Syracuse and the revenge game against the Irish at home. (Gorgui Dieng had a career best 17 rebounds.- Photo courtesy si.com)
The Red Storm was led by Phil Greene IV with 21 points (9-18 shooting) and 3 assists while D’Angelo Harrison added 18 points (6-19 shooting) and 3 asssist. Jakarr Sampson played well and had 8 points and 9 rebounds.
Up next for Rick Pitino and his Cardinals is a road trip to Tampa, FL and a matchup with the USF Bulls (10-14, 1-11) with tip off slated for 1:00 PM EST.