In the confusing aftermath of Louisville’s 67-64 hang-on-by-the-hair-of-their-chinny-chin-chin escape at Notre Dame, I had two questions for myself.
I brought in whisper counsels Smart Guy and Doc, but, as it always is with such matters, one must finally decide for himself how he really feels about matters of import.
Question #1: Can I as a Cardinal fan really feel good, feel satisfied with this this W?
U of L was up by as many as 16 in the 1st, leading 30-16 with 5:29 to complete before halftime. Notre Dame started to pull back in it, one time scoring on an inbounds play while Coach Mack was calling out the play the Irish would run from the sidelines, and his players still allowed the easy tally.
Despite a two minute drought heading to the locker room, the lead was still a dozen at 36-24.
The Cards pilfered the rock from the Irish on the home team’s first possession of the 2d. Stopped them from scoring on their next try. Then gave up a deuce, and two consecutive treys. While only garnering a lone charity toss in their opening five forays.
The first stoppage of the period came at 16:14, following another ND threeball, Chris Mack thinking it judicious not to wait for the media break.
(I was going to review my game notes from previous such Cardinal failures to show after the half, but, really, what’s the point? Suffice it to say, there have been too many.)
Having put on display another patent-pending woeful start to the 2d, U of L was -11, leading precariously at 37-35 at that timeout. When play resumed, Dwayne Sutton provided some needed triage when he fought for and retrieved his own blocked shot, powering in a follow.
It was Louisville’s first FG since the opening half, and more than six minutes of clock.
It wasn’t long until, after a Steven Enoch missed dunk at the offensive end, Notre Dame countered with a deuce to cut U of L’s dwindling advantage to a penny at 53-52.
Another empty Louisville possession, and another Fighting Irish three at 7:04 gave the homies the lead, 55-53.
On the ropes but hanging in defensively, U of L failed to score from the field for 6:09 until a Fresh Kimble bucket pulled them within two at 57-59 with 4:05 to go.
Then Dwayne Sutton made his second of three game winning plays, netting a three to push U of L up 60-59. It was, to say the least, a huge make.
After the Irish countered with a three of their own, Jordan Nwora tallied two to knot it at 62.
At the 2:00 mark, Sutton made his third game-winning play, another drained triple for a 65-62 lead. Followed by Fresh Kimble pushing the margin to 67-62, scoring on a drive to the hoop.
Louisville survived Notre Dame’s last furious foray after turning it over with :34 to go.
Bottom line: It was a conference win on the road. Where Ws in January and February are the difference between a 3, 4 or 5 seed and a 7 or 8 seed in the Dance.
The win came In South Bend, where Louisville had won but once in its last eight trips.
So, yes, the victory is to be cherished, regardless of how it was won.
* * * * *
Which brings me to a very vexing contemplation, i.e. Question #2:
Did I totally miss how Jordan Nwora played on that last Notre Dame possession?
The answer I’ve arrived at the morning after is, uh, well, uh, maybe.
With the clock but a few ticks from quadruple zeros, the ball loose on the hardwood, Louisville’s star, broke down court, contemplating a breakaway celebratory slam. Instead of busting his hump for the ball on the court, as the closest Cardinal to it.
That’s what I saw. That’s what commentator Corey Alexander saw, that Nwora “ran away from the ball.”
The game was on the line, the ball was on the floor, and Nwora’s thinking score at the other end. That’s how I perceived the play, as a failure to understand clock and situation.
I’ve been following U of L hoops for a long time, and I’m just not sure I can remember a play by a Cardinal that I personally like less than Nwora’s failure to go after the loose ball at the game’s end.
Then I read what Chris Mack said about Nwora’s D on that closing segment:
”He singlehandedly guarded every ball handler in that last possession. To be able to keep guards, Prentiss Hubb and Gibbs, out of the lane – Jordan’s 6-7, 6-8, and to keep them from getting in the lane and penetrating and not putting our team in a tough situation . . . I thought his defense was excellent on the ball.”
After saying Nwora was “all over the place” on that possession, Ryan McMahon added:
”Anybody that questions how much he wants to win or how hard he plays, they’re not right. He was getting on us about getting stops the whole second half. The leadership he showed tonight shows his growth as a player and a person.”
Dwayne Sutton also praised his teammates defense.
Well then. Mack’s his coach. Sutton and McMahon are his teammates.
What they believe is considerably more important than the perceptions of an ancient fan, watching on the telly.
I’ve got an appointment with my ophthalmologist in a few weeks. I guess it won’t be too soon.
* * * * *
Star o’ Game: Dwayne Sutton. Three we’re-going-to-win-this-thing-or-I’m-going-to-die-trying plays, all set forth in detail above. 10 points. 14 boards. 3 assists. 2 steals. The will to win.
How did his coach describe the Manual High grad? “Big cojones.”
Ryan McMahon had one of those en fuego interludes in the first, when he reversed and scored, and twice scooped and scored, and drained a couple threes from T-D Jesus. He finished with 17.
At +21, McMahon easily led the Cards in that category.
Nwora scored 20.
* * * * *
Once again, against a shorthanded squad Louisville “should have” handled with dispatched, the Cards struggled, but escaped.
They needed to finish strong for an ACC road W. Which they did.
It underscored that nothing is going to come easy for the Cardinals.
Laying in wait, the Panthers of Pitt come Tuesday.
-- c d kaplan