Louisville put an appropriate cap on one of the strangest weeks in the history of Cardinal basketball with a 56-55 home win over Clemson that left the Yum Center crowd unsure of how to react.
Playing just four days after blowing a 23-point second half lead against Duke, U of L again faltered mightily down the stretch and left the door open for what would have been a soul-crushing defeat. The Cardinals led 55-47 with under 30 seconds to play before a slew of turnovers and made desperation shots from the Tigers pushed the home team to the brink of disaster once again.
Louisville’s final turnover the afternoon came with 3.2 seconds to play, when Jordan Nwora’s inbounds pass — intended for a falling Dwayne Sutton — wound up in the hands of Clemson’s Marcquise Reed. Reed’s potential game-winner was blocked by a quick-reacting Nwora, and John Newman III’s putback attempt found nothing but iron. The final horn sounded and Cardinal fans, understandably, couldn’t find the energy to take their hands off the top of their heads and clap.
I can’t put this ending into words.— Dominique Yates (@RealDYates) February 16, 2019
Just watch pic.twitter.com/77DEu3bXSZ
The most disappointing thing here is that before the final 30 seconds, it felt like the Cardinals had exorcised most of the demons from Tuesday night.
After appearing to be in an obvious funk for the first 32 minutes of the game, Louisville woke up. Christen Cunningham, the player who was perhaps the most susceptible to a lingering effect from the Duke loss, seized complete control of the contest when his team needed him to. Darius Perry, another candidate for the previously mentioned award, hit an enormous three-pointer and made a handful of key plays. As a team, Louisville broke Clemson’s press flawlessly on back-to-back occasions in the game’s final 90 seconds, and wound up with baskets that appeared to both put Saturday’s game on ice and restore any lost confidence from earlier in the week.
Now, collective team psyche is once again a concern as the team prepares to enter the final three weeks of the regular season. Of course it would be even more of a concern if Nwora hadn’t reacted quickly enough to block Reed’s shot, or if Newman’s follow-up had been on target.
You want to say “they bounced back with a win and that’s all that matters,” but that’s easier said than done after experiencing those final 30 seconds. “Well, it could have been worse” feels more appropriate ... at least for now.
Head coach Chris Mack jokes “I would like to announce my retirement as a college basketball coach. It’s been real Louisville,” to start his opening statement:— Louisville Cardinal (@TheCardSports) February 16, 2019
“Their physicality, especially in the first half, knocked us back.” pic.twitter.com/CR2mUAMkcA
Louisville’s overall resume and its place in the ACC standings are both perfectly fine. It’s the team’s mental state that has to be more of a concern at the moment. The good(?) news is that the Cards are almost certain to have multiple opportunities to put those fears to bed by painlessly closing out games in the coming weeks.
For now, we spend the rest of the weekend thankful that we’re the story in college basketball for all the wrong reasons, and that we’re not being bombarded at every turn with footage of an improbable Clemson victory celebration. And then we turn the page and try to never think about this week ever again.
Here’s the final box score from Saturday: