Louisville got 17 points apiece from the backcourt duo of Carlik Jones and David Johnson, as well as 16 points and 12 rebounds from Jae’Lyn Withers as it held on for a 73-71 win over No. 19 Virginia Tech Wednesday night at the KFC Yum Center.
The Cards now sit alone atop the ACC standings as the only team in the league with a perfect 3-0 record. U of L also won its 17th consecutive game over Vah Tech, the program’s longest active winning streak over a single opponent.
It was yet another slow start for Louisville, which spotted its visitors the first 11 points of the game. The Cards then responded with nine straight points of their own, and eventually claimed a lead that would expand to as many as 14 points.
Josh Nickelberry claims a victim. pic.twitter.com/md9NpMm962— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 6, 2021
While Louisville never trailed in the second half, it couldn’t help but once again put its fans through some anxious moments in the game’s final minutes.
After appearing to be on the verge of closing things out multiple times, the Cards allowed Virginia Tech to hang around and ultimately wind up with a final shot to steal a victroy. After Johnson missed the backend of a double bonus with just 5.5 seconds to play, Hokie point guard Hunter Cattoor wound up with a far-too-clean look at a potential game-winner. Just as my soul started to claw its way out of my body, Cattoor’s shot found nothing but iron.
Instant offense sub Jalen Cone gave a fairly ridiculous performance off the bench for Virginia Tech, hitting a wide array of twisting and turning three-pointers to keep the Hokies within striking distance during the heart of the second half. Cone finished with a game-high and a new career-high 23 points.
This is a weird game to reflect on in the immediate aftermath, because Louisville beat a good team, appeared to be clearly superior from about the 15-minute mark of the first half on, seemed tantalizingly close to closing the game out for about half an hour, but ultimately left the door open long enough and wide enough to give Vah Tech a pretty decent shot at escaping with a win.
I still think the good outweighs the bad tonight (and fairly significantly), but this team has got to get better at closing out games. That said, great stuff the backcourt once again, the best performance of the year from Withers, terrific efforts off the bench from Josh Nickelberry and Quinn Slazinksi (who got virtually every big minute of the game over Sam Williamson), and ultimately the most impressive W of the season so far.
We’ll see these guys again at their place on Feb. 13, when they’ll once again be trying to beat us for the first time since 1991.