To be honest, I don’t really know where to begin, and so that is how I will start this. Rather than fire off a series of tweets to recap the game how I saw it, I think it’s better to use this platform and try to keep things a little more organized. In saying that, there is no plan here and I will just let my thoughts spill out about Louisville’s win over Middle Tennessee State, from the viewpoint of section 104. I haven’t watched a replay on TV, which may help, so this will just be from being there in person on Sunday night at Freedom...um...the KFC Yum! Center.
That crowd was incredible. It was announced as 13,050. The saying can be true. Less is more. There may be less people in there than regular season games, but THIS kind of crowd is what college basketball is supposed to be about. THIS kind of crowd is fun to be apart of. And THIS kind of crowd is the type that can give the team a new pulse, just when they think they don’t have one anymore. Since that second half started against NKU in the first round, the crowd has rallied behind the team and it seems like the guys in white have fed off of that energy and played harder. It carried over into Sunday night. It will carry into Tuesday as we hopefully send our guys to Madison Square Garden for a chance at a championship. The team seemed like they were ready to mail it in before this NIT started. The fans wouldn’t let them, and they have responded by showing that they are not ready for this season to end.
It felt like old games at Freedom Hall. MTSU called a timeout when Louisville was up just 6-4, and the crowd stood up and went crazy. The women’s Swimming & Diving team got a huge ovation. Of course the loudest cheer of all was for the man himself, Denny Crum. Showing him on the video board is a guaranteed way to get the crowd’s attention. On this night, it seemed juuuuust a little louder than normal. I can’t remember the last time I stood up so many times during a regular transition fast break, just so I could see the play because everyone else was standing. And I have no problem with that. I prefer to stand the whole time anyway. That wasn’t a big problem during this game. The crowd was in this together.
As for the actual game, Ray Spalding set the tone early for the Cards. After giving up an offensive rebound on the first defensive possession and MTSU scoring off of it, he played like a man possessed and scored 10 of Louisville’s first 12 points. He finished with 18 points on 8/11 shooting and that included post moves and a mid range jump shot that could be useful at the next level. And if he keeps knocking it down consistently, that next level will happen sooner rather than later for Mr. Spalding.
After Ray put on his show, it was time for Ryan McMahon to make it rain three pointers at the Yum. McMahon scored 15 points and made four three pointers, all of those were in the first half. MTSU could not figure out that when Quentin Snider drove to McMahon, he was going to hand it to him, while also setting a screen in the process. They also could not locate him in transition. Shooters shoot. He was letting it fly, and his barrage of points helped propel the Cards to a big second quarter, which is when the game was pretty much decided.
The Blue Raiders decided in the second half that McMahon was not going to get open looks. Enter Jordan Nwora. The freshman had his second highest point total of the season with 17. He made 4/8 from deep, while also grabbing four rebounds. He provided the offensive spark in the second half that McMahon did in the second quarter. MTSU took one away, but they couldn’t take both offensive threats away. When he and McMahon went to check in during the first half, I said “here come a lot of points...for both teams.” I was right. While they did give up their fair share on one end, they combined to score 32, so we will just roll with the positive here. They were great on offense.
For the most part, the other guys played well and just did their thing. Quentin Snider dished out eight assists and chipped in seven points. V.J. King had 13 points and six rebounds. And I have come to learn that his shot is the one dribble and pull-up jumper. The one that seems like a bad shot, but if that is his comfort zone, go for it V.J.. Darius Perry, Anas Mahmoud, and Dwayne Sutton all made contributions. None were bad.
I think it says a lot about the depth of this team to win a game 84-68 against a quality opponent, all while Deng Adel has zero points, two rebounds, zero assists, and three turnovers in 21 minutes. I won’t pile on him for that stat line. I don’t need to. Good teams have other guys step up when they need to. Louisville didn’t need a big game from Deng Adel for this one. They apparently didn’t need any kind of game from him. But they could on Tuesday night. And he could very well come out and have 20 points, seven rebounds, and five assists and be the best player on the floor. This just wasn’t his game, and other guys picked it up.
It feels like the entire dynamic of this team and fanbase has shifted since last Sunday. Louisville was left out of the NCAA Tournament and heading to the NIT. Did players want to be in it? Did fans want to watch it? Fast forward one week. The team is playing with so much passion and enthusiasm and they look like they are just having fun playing basketball with their brothers. The bench is great to watch. The fans are really rallying behind this team.
There are only a few teams in the country that get to end their season with a win. Louisville can be one of those teams. So, why not? Is it the tournament we all wanted? No, but it’s the one that we’ve got. So let’s go win the thing. This team and these guys deserve to have their season end on a positive note. The Virginia fiasco wasn’t senior night. Tuesday is the new senior night. Get out there and show these guys what this fanbase is all about.
Go Cards...Beat Mississippi State.