Purdue's Game Notes in advance of last night's encounter heralded Caleb Swanigan, Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas as "The Nation's Best Frontline."
Thus, the trio's first half stat line provides empirical evidence of how good the Cardinals' defensive game plan and execution of it was.
In the first 20 minutes, Swanigan was 0/2 from the field, didn't get to the line and corralled 4 rebounds. Edwards was 0/4 from the field, didn't get to the line with 3 rebounds. Haas -- truly a mountain of a man, he dwarfs Matz Stockman -- was 0/6 from the field, hit one of his two FT attempts and had only three boards.
While Edwards is somewhat lithe, like his Cardinal foes, Swanigan is an NBA-ready beast. (Which he put on display after halftime.)
My point is this. U of L's thin but long bigs proved they can perform at championship level when they have time to prepare and follow Rick Pitino's game plan.
Because, it was proven yet again that the Louisville coach is as good as there is or has ever been when preparing a team for a game if he has time. His plan was to give up threes but minimize the impact underneath. Good strategy. Good execution.
It worked perfectly for a half. And was a winning formula for the tilt, as U of L prevailed, 71-64.
Edwards never scored from the field, made one of two FTs and didn't grab a rebound after the break. Haas ended up 2/9 from the field, 4/6 at the line with 5 caroms, and was similarly no factor.
On the other hand, Swanigan more or less dominated after the Linkin Bridge intermission show, ending up with his usual double double, 14 points and 11 rebounds.
All in all, the "Nation's Best Frontline" was held to 23 points (24 under average) and 19 rebounds (3 under average).
That's how planning and defense win games.
The Boilermakers were 10/23 (44%) from beyond the arc, and 16/22 (73%) at the charity stripe. But it wasn't enough.
U of L led by 14 at the half. The Cards again displayed a vexing tendency to get wobbly after the break, but kept the highly ranked visitors measured. Purdue, despite the kind of expected late flurry good teams fashion, never came within a possession of the Cards.
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Meanwhile . . . during that pivotal opening period . . . Mangok Mathiang proved that doggedness can on occasion overcome offensive ineptitude with 7 points and 6 boards. Ray Spalding showed why fans are so pumped about his upside, with 9 points on perfect 4/4 and 1/1 shooting, while gathering six retrievals.
For the game, those two were the Cards' only double figure scorers, tallying 11 apiece. They also cleaned the glass for 17 rebounds collectively.
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There were a couple of key interludes, important in fashioning Louisville's most impressive win of the young season.
Up 19-9 with just under seven minutes to play in the first, the Cards survived four awful offensive possessions in a row. Donovan Mitchell missed a 2 on 1 slam. Quentin Snider missed a fast break layup. And the Cards turned it over twice without a shot.
Yet the Cards still led 21-14 at the final media timeout of the period. Then finished the half strong. MM drained a jumper, the kind of surprise he laid on Virginia awhile back. Deng Adel netted a three. Spalding completed a +1. And David Levitch tallied a floater at the halftime buzzer.
In the second stanza there was one section which might have been crucial. At 51-41, U of L failed to fully capitalize on three consecutive Boilermaker turnovers. But the Cards survived, thanks to steady D.
The key sequence of the game -- one guy's opinion -- came just as Purdue finally cut the margin to single digits, 56-48, with a bit over five minutes to play. Q missed a jumper, followed by a Mitchell miss on a drive.
Because U of L, finally getting some crowd support, was playing that aforementioned great D, that score still stood at the 4:04 mark. Spalding missed the front end of a 1+1, but Adel made THE hustle play of the night, leaping for the rebound and knocking it off a Purdue player over the endline to keep possession.
On the set inbounds play, Ryan McMahon, doing what Ryan McMahon shall do a lot during his Cardinal career, swished his second trey of the evening, giving the Cards an 11 point advantage.
Which proved too much to overcome for the talented and relentless Boilermakers.
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It became obvious during the Baylor debacle that development of guard depth is imperative.
Glimmers of that improvement showed against Purdue.
McMahon was mature and steady at the point, adding an assist and steal to his 6 points.
Tony Hicks played his most controlled game as a Card. He didn't take a shot, but he hustled on D and kept the ball moving on O.
Mitchell, despite another sub par game, proved again that he can be counted on at crunch time. He scored six in the last minute and a half on a couple of FGs and a couple of FTs for the final margin.
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Linkin Bridge's Doo Wop National Anthem was righteous.
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TRAP GAME WARNING: Next Grand Canyon on the road, Saturday night.
-- Seedy K