Rick Pitino has built a culture at Louisville where everyone tends to have their moment. Or at the very least they get an opportunity to have their moment.
For redshirt freshman guard Ryan McMahon, it seemed as though that moment had already come.
With No. 15 Purdue mounting a late charge inside the KFC Yum! Center on Nov. 30, McMahon buried a pair of key three-pointers to vault Louisville to a 71-64 victory that has only grown more impressive with age. The next impact performance for the Sarasota native came when he buried five fairly meaningless three-pointers during UofL's 55-point rout of Pittsburgh. Outside of that performance, however, McMahon had been just 3-of-13 from beyond the arc in ACC play, and had scored just 10 total points.
That being the case, it wasn't especially surprising to see that McMahon had logged just six seconds of regulation action in Louisville's hugely important ACC clash at Syracuse on Monday. When David Levitch, the super walk-on who has been forced into extra duty recently because of the multiple injuries in the Cardinal backcourt, passed up on a wide open three-pointer early on in the overtime period, McMahon was handed an opportunity he never saw coming. Not that he wasn't ready for it.
"I didn't take David out because he got beat on defense or missed a shot," Pitino said after the game. "I took him out because he passed up a wide-open three. Right then I knew we had to go with Ryan because he's a young man who isn't afraid of anything. We knew he'd get it done for us."
It didn't take long for McMahon to enter the scorer's book.
A furious comeback to end regulation had already put momentum squarely on the side of the home team. A three-point play by the Orange's Andrew White only amplified the matter. With Donovan Mitchell on the bench with five fouls, it wasn't double figure scorers Quentin Snider or Deng Adel who rose to the occasion, it was the guy who had played six seconds in the first two halves.
McMahon didn't hesitate the first time he touched the ball, drilling a three-pointer that silenced the 25,303 Syracuse fans in attendance. He followed that big shot up with a crucial offensive rebound and put-back basket, his first field goal from inside the three-point line this season. McMahon put the cap on his remarkable performance in extra time with a pair of free-throws to set the game's final score at 76-72.
"He put on a Superman outfit and won the game for us," Pitino said. "I'm glad he had that moment."
McMahon's heroics kept Louisville in a position where if the Cardinals win their final five games of the regular season, they're guaranteed to finish in at least a first place tie in the final ACC standings. Should that occur, it would be difficult to envision UofL earning anything worse than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
With games left at North Carolina and Wake Forest, winning out seems like a daunting task for Louisville, but one that has been made more realistic with the team approaching full strength. After missing six games because of a strained hip flexor, Snider returned to the court last Saturday for the team's game against Miami. While the transition from life with Snider to without him to back with him hasn't exactly been seamless, the most important thing for the Cardinals has been that the adjustment period hasn't cost them any victories.
"It's gigantic," Pitino said of his team's most recent victories. "Because we knew how much Miami needed the game Saturday and we knew how much Syracuse needed the game, and to come up with two wins, one in which you don't play well and the other you're in a hostile environment, especially down the stretch with somebody being very, very confident, it's a great thing."
That confidence has Louisville near the top of the ACC standings, and has one of its smallest players strolling around UofL this week as one of the biggest names on campus.
A version of this column appears in the current issue of The Voice-Tribune