After making the national rankings for the first time in over a year, the #23 Louisville Cardinals couldn’t afford to rest on their laurels as they faced #21 NC State.
Despite being beaten on the boards, the Cards were still able to get another conference win, beating the Wolfpack 84-77.
NC State only had three losses coming into this game, while two of those came to ranked teams, they also had a loss against Wake Forest earlier this month. They have one of the highest scoring and quickest offenses in the nation, and have tough, pressing defense that their head coach, Kevin Keatts, learned under former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino.
18 games into one of the toughest schedules in the nation, Louisville has finally gotten some respect on the national level. Now they needed to prove they deserved that respect as their toughest games of the season loomed around the corner.
The Cards were out rebounded early, but still managed to get up to a ten point lead nine minutes into the games. NC State battled back, hitting every bucket they threw up and catching and regaining the lead in the final ten minutes of the half. The teams were neck-and-neck for the final few minutes as the Wolfpack’s shooting faltered, allowing Louisville to stay in the game and go into halftime with a 42-41 lead.
The Cards won the first half despite being out rebounded 20-10. This was thanks in large part to the Wolfpack’s 14 first-half turnovers, which Louisville turned into 21 points. NC State also fouled the Cards 12 times in the first 20 minutes, which allowed them to hit 12 free throws.
Christen Cunningham had ten points in the half.
Coming out of the locker rooms, Louisville got back up to a ten-point lead. But the Wolfpack was able to stay within striking distance thanks in large part to their continued dominance on the boards. This and continued spotty shot selection from the Cards allowed NC State to get the lead back.
After the game stayed tied up for the middle part of the second half, an 8-0 run thanks to big shots from Dwayne Sutton, Steven Enoch and Khwan Fore gave Louisville a six-point lead with a little over four minutes left in the game, but the Wolfpack continued to threaten and was withing two points with less than a minute to go.
Ryan McMahon and Malik Williams hit clutch free throws to get the Cards up by four.
Christen Cunningham led Louisville with 17 points on 4-7 shooting, including hitting 9 of his 11 free throws. Sutton, Enoch, Williams and Jordan Nwora also scored in double-figures.
Nwora, usually a reliable offensive threat from for the Cards, struggled tonight, going 3-12, including 0-7 from three, for 13 total points. He was Louisville’s leading rebounder however, grabbing six boards.
Rebounding was a major issue during this game. NC State grabbed 38 boards to the Cards’ 26, including 15 offensive rebounds.
But Louisville has plenty of good to take from this game. A good chunk of their offensive came off of the Wolfpack’s 23 turnovers, and the Cards scoring a season-high 37 points off them.
Louisville drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line was also a big part of their game. NC State had 23 fouls which gave Louisville 29 chances to score from the charity stripe, hitting 24 of them.
Louisville moves to 14-5 on the season (5-1 ACC). NC State falls to 15-4 (3-3 ACC).
The Cards will stay home with less than two days rest as they face Pittsburgh on January 26.<