LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The most impressive thing about Louisville’s response to Pittsburgh’s comeback attempt was how quickly and effectively the No. 1 Cardinals shut it down.
Not unlike the way they started.
Jordan Nwora scored 19 points, Malik Williams had 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, and Louisville used a 17-4 second-half run to pull away from Pittsburgh for a 64-46 victory Friday night.
After shooting 37% in their previous game against No. 4 Michigan, the Cardinals (9-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) came out firing from long range. Every player had at least one 3-pointer as they went 9 of 17 from behind the arc and 13 for 26 overall in the first half. Nwora was the last to join the party but made shots from elsewhere before hitting another 3 as Louisville finished with 11 in all.
Nwora left the game briefly in the second half after injuring his left shoulder, part of a cold stretch for Louisville that allowed Pittsburgh (7-3, 1-1) to trim the margin to 43-38. The Cardinals answered with their big run that featured 13 straight points and Nwora’s steal and breakaway dunk.
“I think it’s two games in a row where we got stops, we didn’t allow second shots,” coach Chris Mack said. “We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups. And that’s a killer.
“Defensively, you take a few more chances when you’re that team that’s behind and you’re desperate to get back in it. And for us to be able to get the ball reversed, set the screens that we wanted, get layups, that’s just backbreaking.”
That wasn’t easy against the physical Panthers, who kept coming after the Cardinals even when trailing by double digits at different points. Pitt was still within reach after Nwora’s return before Au’diese Toney was called for a foul on the junior forward and the bench received a technical foul.
Louisville made just two free throws from that sequence, but the Panthers couldn’t take further advantage.
“I wouldn’t say that a technical foul on Coach was the reason as to why we lost,” Panthers forward Eric Hamilton said. “We lost because we played soft, and it’s just as simple as that.”
Pitt coach Jeff Capel added, “I think we were a little bit too emotional and we allowed the emotion of the game and situations to distract us, and when you’re playing against a really good team, especially a veteran team, and you’re playing on the road, you can’t do that.”
Williams, meanwhile, had season highs in points and rebounds after missing the first four games with a foot injury. Ryan McMahon hit three 3s for 11 points as Louisville ended Pittsburgh’s five-game winning streak.
Xavier Johnson had 15 points for the Panthers before fouling out. Pittsburgh dropped its 22nd consecutive ACC road game and fell short in its bid to earn a victory over the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
A crowd of 17,249 was hushed when Nwora slid to the floor and landed on his left shoulder after getting tangled with Hamilton. Nwora grimaced while being tended to by the Louisville medical staff before getting up and holding his shoulder while walking into the tunnel to stretch before returning during an extended timeout.
Mack’s reaction to the scary moment was “sheer panic” because of Nwora’s reaction that told him it was serious.
“When you see a little bit of fear or a little bit of a panic,” Mack said, “which I saw that in Jordan for a second, he said (the shoulder) almost came out. I said, ‘Well, did it come out?’ He said no. I said, ‘Well, almost doesn’t count.'”
Pittsburgh: Of the four Panthers starters averaging double figures in scoring, only Johnson had some initial success against Louisville’s defense. Hamilton, who entered averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds over his previous four games, contributed 10 points but other Panthers starters combined for just 16 points as they finished shooting 38% from the field.
Louisville: When seven Cardinals make 3s before Nwora, that’s a good sign. They ended up shooting 47% and gained a 33-29 edge on the glass and 24-22 in paint points. Eight regulars scored at least three points, and seven had at least two rebounds.
“That just shows the weapons that we have,” McMahon said. “We have a bunch of selfless guys that really only care about getting the best shot for our team and really only care about winning. That just makes the weapons more dangerous.”
Louisville’s successful week should keep the Cardinals at the top of the rankings.
Pittsburgh hosts Northern Illinois on Dec. 16.
Louisville faces Texas Tech on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic in New York.
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