Out of the four-game stretch of Youngstown State, Indiana State, North Carolina Central and USC Upstate, Wednesday night’s game against the Sycamores was clearly the most difficult on paper. You wouldn’t have known it from the way the Cardinals handled business.
Let’s talk about the ins and the outs of what Chris Mack referred to as his team’s most complete performance of the young season.
—I’m going to start with Jordan Nwora just because I feel like at this point the only things he can do to generate an extended conversation are have an awful game out of nowhere or go off for 40. We’ve reached the point where we just assume he’s going to give us 20+ a night without having to use an insane amount of offensive possessions. We’ve reached that point because he’s done it every game so far this year.
Having one of the best players in the country — currently No. 4 in Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year rankings — should never be taken for granted. We’ll all try our best to properly appreciate what you’re doing, Jordan.
—The most surprising stat from the Bellarmine exhibition was Ryan McMahon not making a shot and going 0-for-5 from three. There had been buzz all summer long that he had been torching the nets, and a 7-for-7 performance from deep a week earlier at the Kueber Center open run only added to the hype. I think it’s fair to say after three actual games that Ryan’s effort against the Knights was an anomaly.
In his 23 years with the program, we’ve never seen McMahon as locked in as he is right now. If he’s anywhere across midcourt and he gets a solid look at the rim and a chance to step into the shot, it feels like there’s a 95 percent chance that the shot is going down right now. His 3-for-4 effort from deep Wednesday night brought his season total from beyond the arc to 9-of-14. Plus, he made the pass of the night and is playing without question the best defense of his career to date.
That’s a decent weapon to have.
—I don’t care what information you provide, you’re not going to be able to convince me that Indiana State’s Christopher Agbo is a 21-year-old college junior.
That man is a professional wrestler/actor who is no younger than 35 years of age. I felt so bad for Quinn Slazinksi when he was trying to defend this middle-aged action movie star in the final minutes of the game.
—We usually only bitch about officiating when our teams lose, but I’m going to go ahead and say that last night was at the very least one of the five worst whistles we’re going to get all season. Chris Mack was annoyed throughout the night and it wasn’t hard to see why. The stripes were just guessing all evening and knew they could get away with it because the home team couldn’t miss from the outside.
—After his astoundingly out-of-character performance against Youngstown State, the easiest bet in the world was Dwayne Sutton playing like he needed to get a double-double against Indiana State to save the lives of himself and his entire family. That’s what happened.
After playing 30 minutes and scoring just two points and grabbing just three boards against the Penguins, Sutton was back to being everywhere on the floor Wednesday night, finishing with 14 points and 10 boards while playing a team-high 31 minutes. He also buried his first two triples of the season, which was awesome to see.
—It’s been almost 24 hours and the Sam Williamson put-back dunk still has me feeling some type of way. So does the thought of how good he might be come early February.
—Louisville has now shot better than 50 percent from the floor in all three of its games this season, which is wonderful and encouraging but also just a little bit scary. The law of averages says a bad shooting day or night is coming at some point in the next few weeks and that Louisville is going to have to win that game with defense and dogged resolution. We all assume they’ll be up to the challenge when that moment comes, but you never know for sure how you’re going to react in a fight until you’re actually in one. Here’s hoping that when the time comes it’s an experience the squad is able to absorb in victory.
—We talked last write-up about how the most valuable things to come out of these early season games are confidence boosts and experience gains. We attributed the former to Darius Perry’s big evening, where he scored 10 points and dished out 12 assists for his first career double-double.
Perry took something of a step backwards on Wednesday, but it was his backup who was ready to step up and get his own November confidence boost. Fresh Kimble was terrific off the bench, knocking down five of the six shots he took, running the offense calmly, and finishing with three assists against one turnover.
His background as a score-first guard is too firmly implanted in his DNA for it to ever be fully removed, but when he gets that first made field goal under his belt early, you can almost see his entire self just relax. Once that happens he starts looking far more composed and allows the offensive opportunities to come to him naturally through the offense as opposed to actively seeking them out.
Again, don’t worry about Fresh. I think he’s going to be fine. We’re going to have two capable options at point guard.
—Also receiving a confidence boost was Aidan Igiehon, who already looks far more comfortable than he did 10 days ago. Getting his first dunk and seeing a jump hook go through the rim should only add to that growing comfort level. I don’t know what his role is going to be once Malik Williams returns, but regardless, this experience figures to be beneficial for both whatever role that winds up being and for his longterm career at U of L.
—Since high school, I have owned a pair of Indiana State basketball shorts that I have worn at a fairly consistent rate. So, yeah, lots of emotions flying around for me Wednesday night.
—I thought it was noteworthy that after the game, Vince Tyra, Jordan Nwora, Chris Mack and others all made it a point to shoutout the student section for being full and rowdy Wednesday night.
Compare that with, oh I don’t know ....
Must be a big homework night for students. pic.twitter.com/VNMyRgjg4U— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) November 13, 2019
Props to The Villens for helping Louisville handle a Missouri Valley team from Indiana the way they’re supposed to be handled.
—The baby cried or slept through this entire game, so no token pic in this write-up. She sends her deepest apologies and promises to be more focused this weekend.
—For the most part, Louisville did a really good job on Indiana State’s high-scoring backcourt duo of Tyreke Key and Jordan Barnes.
Key got hot early in the second half and U of L did a bad job at making him do something besides catch and shoot beyond the arc (doesn’t matter how deep the shots are when someone’s in that kind of zone, you have to make him do something else), and as a result he finished with 20 points. Barnes, who is less consistent than Key but more capable of going off for 35, buried his first triple but wound up going 2-of-9 from beyond the arc and 2-of-13 from the field overall.
To hold those two guys to a combined 27 points on 7-of-24 shooting from the field is a major win.
—I was happy to see Bronson Kessinger, the Corydon native who grew up a huge U of L fan, get a couple of shots to fall in his one shot to play a game inside the KFC Yum Center. He had a strong contingent of supporters in the crowd and it’s always nice to see local-ish guys make some plays (but not too many) when that’s the case.
That red goatee was glowing too.
—We were blessed with a Keith Oddo sighting for the second consecutive game. When our guy came painfully close to snagging a rebound on consecutive possessions, he made the savvy veteran play to commit an obvious foul on the possession after that to secure his spot on the stat sheet.
Trying to teach the youngsters how it’s done https://t.co/U8NAC5QbbV— Keith Oddo (@keithoddo) November 14, 2019
That’s why he rocks the No. 1.
—With a conference tournament soccer game once again slotted for 6 p.m. on the ACC Network, my understanding is U of L and the ACCN got together and agreed to move the tip-off time back to 8:10 with the hope of avoiding another disaster like opening night. The actual tip time was closer to 8:20, and I think the lower bowl was more filled for the tip than it has been for any other non-spotlight game in the last three years.
We’ve found the solution to that problem: Just lie about the tip time and those center court seats are going to wind up looking much better on TV.
Looking forward to seeing everyone at 4:15 on Sunday.