The first regular to check in after the Cardinals’ tough it out W over the better-than-you-thought-they-were-even-if-you’d-read-the-pregame-warnings Lipscomb Bisons was Smart Guy.
His text read, “Malik -- Player of the Game?”
To which missive, my knee jerk and essentially correct reaction was, “Absolutely.”
With seven and a half minutes left, U of L’s premature sigh of relief 50-38 advantage had long since dissipated. The relentless visitors ate through that lead like a bunch of frat boys consuming a table full of Benny Impellizzeri’s husko gordo pies and killer garlic butter breadsticks. Louisville’s only tally during that 2-14 give back was struggling Steven Enoch’s second jump hook of the night.
After another trying-to-do-too-much Jordan Nwora turnover and Bison tally to tie it, perturbed Coach Chris Mack called a timeout. Some boffo D by Williams -- more about his career segment dead ahead -- a great drive for two by Dwayne Sutton and a couple Ryan McMahon charity tosses and, as we are wont to say, the bleeding had stopped.
But the Cards had only canned 2 of their last 11 FG attempts and a Lipscomb FT cut the unsteady advantage to three at 56-53.
Malik Williams, come on down, it’s time to grab this thing by the short and curlies.
Sixteen seconds later, MW slipped his man and flushed the rock after an alert feed from McMahon. Williams then blocked Rob Marberry’s shot, altered the Bison pivot’s attempt for a follow and snared the rebound.
He followed that with his second nothing-but-net threeball for a somewhat more secure 61-53 margin. Assist by Darius Perry, who, by the by, played a most steady and contributory 19 minutes.
Williams stayed strong at the defensive end, blocking the NashVegasians next attempt.
So, for that ;49 second foray, along with his stat line of 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks, Smart Guy and I in the immediate aftermath of another hang-in-there-at-crunch-time W, bestowed Malik Williams with the POG honor.
Oh yeah, he also set a screen which allowed Christen Cunningham to be open for that trés importanté bank-it-in J at :21 for a 69-65 lead.
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Of course, I considered recanting that position after considering what Cardinal Catalyst Dwayne Sutton did after intermission.
The highlight moment was arguably the game’s biggest make, unless CC’s described above was. With the shot clock quickly approaching zeros, Sutton netted an off the dribble, fall away trey from the left corner at 2:55 for a seven point, 66-59 lead.
(An aside of sorts: Not that the defending A-Sun champs didn’t keep coming, but U of L, as it now does more often than not, stayed steady at crunch time. The Cards only relinquished the lead for :23 early in the 2d.)
Playing every second after the break, Sutton scored ten, grabbed three of his 9 boards, had a key assist, played that Jack Black Tenacious D, proving yet again he’s the motor that keeps this spunky band of Cardinals running down the road with a full load.
For his ever presence, 14 points, 5/5 at the line, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, block, steal, Chris Mack, if he handed out such awards, would probably have named the DuPont Manual grad POG.
I would not argue. Coach and I (and Smart Guy) will just have to agree to disagree. It’s a pleasant argument to have.
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The Bisons turned it over only 11 times, while forcing 17 cough ups by the Cards.
But three of those Lipscomb errors came late at crucial junctures as the game was on the line.
Kenny Cooper gave it away at :46, leading to that Cunningham jumper in the lane.
Matthew Garrison lost the rock at :13, leading to McMahon’s two FTs.
Then Eli Pepper threw it out of bounds on an inbounds play at :04, ending any chance for a Lipscomb victory. (Don’t think it can happen? Look at the tape of last year’s UVa fiasco.)
The pleasant reality is that this year’s Cardinals are not last year’s Cardinals, though most of the faces look mighty familiar.
Louisville’s opening tip to 00:00 defense was one of the main reason for those Lipscomb mistakes. You could legitimately call this a Program Win, the kind Louisville harvested for years, when foes would falter late because the Cardinals were, yes, the Cardinals. A status that appears -- hopefully -- to be returning sooner than expected.
Lipscomb is a damn fine team, #70 at kenpom.com, ahead of such noteworthies as UConn, Georgetown, Southern Cal, Temple, Dayton, and several ACC members. They beat #30 TCU in Fort Worth.
Yet, against such solid, well-drilled competition, as tweedly as it got, Louisville led the entire opening stanza, and the final 18:53
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Because he remains ever an enigma, as much so as any Cardinal I can recall, I feel compelled to mention VJ King. Again.
Not to pile on, but simply to reiterate my confusion as to how and why he is so ineffectual?
After a burst of energy two games back, he’s returned to being a total non-factor.
Last night, he played 8 minutes in the first half, scoring zero and grabbing a couple of missed Bison shots. He never got off the bench in the 2d. His +/- of -7 was the worst on the team.
If he ever starts to contribute, even a little bit, it will add a whole new dimension to a team that needs scorers besides Jordan Nwora.
If . . . if . . . if . . . if . . .
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Even though the Cards were -6 in turnovers, giving it away 17 times, they were only -3 in Points off Turnovers (12-15), meaning they hustled back on D at those times it surrendered possessions.
The Cards were 18/22 at the line (82%), including 12/14 (86%) in the 2d. Louisville is making 77% of its freebies, a significant improvement in Mack Y1 over recent campaigns.
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Next Up: Kent State, 8-1, with a W in Memorial Gym over Vandy’s Commodores.
-- Seedy K