In a game that featured stretches where neither team appeared capable of missing a shot and others where neither appeared capable of holding onto the ball, No. 23 Louisville outlasted No. 21 NC State 84-77 at the KFC Yum Center Thursday night.
Making the win especially impressive for the Cardinals was the fact that it came on an evening where leading scorer Jordan Nwora didn’t have his fastball. After netting a combined 57 points in his last two games, Nwora shot just 3-for-12 from the field. He did manage to get to the line 10 times, finishing with 13 points to go with six rebounds and four assists.
Thankfully for U of L, Christen Cunningham was once again rock solid in a situation where he had to be. The Samford grad transfer went 9-of-11 at the free-throw line and posted a team-high 19 points. Malik Williams also stepped up, scoring 14 big points and blocking three shots. Steven Enoch (10) and Dwayne Sutton (10) also hit double figures in scoring.
As predicted before the game, Braxton Beverly did, in fact, join the ever-expanding “broke out of a mini shooting slump against Louisville” club. The sophomore sharp-shooter who had made just six of his last 24 three-point attempts canned 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and scored a game-high 19 points.
Entering Thursday night, NC State ranked 213th in the country in the percentage of its points which came from three-pointers. Naturally, the Pack drilled 12-of-27 against the Cards. U of L was able to overcome that by forcing (perhaps too strong a word in some instances) 23 turnovers and outscoring their guests by 19 at the free-throw line.
This was a weird game, but NC State is a team that enjoys weird games. They thrive on chaos, and chaos is what they got for a healthy chunk of Thursday night. The fact that Louisville — without getting an overly impressive offensive effort from either Nwora or Sutton — was able to deal with that and still make the plays necessary to win (thunderous applause for Ryan McMahon’s drawn charge in the final minute) is no small feat.
U of L is 5-1 a third of the way into the ACC season, and I feel confident in saying that two of those wins are over teams that are going to be comfortably in the NCAA tournament. Over the entirety of league play last season, Louisville only beat two league opponents who wound up making the Big Dance, and those two teams were a No. 8 and a No. 9 seed.
I know that there’s a gauntlet ahead and more lumps almost certainly coming with it, but I can’t believe how f—ing fun these first two and-a-half months have been.
Nothing makes the dead of winter more alive than when Louisville basketball has it rolling.