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Louisville fights but falls to NC State, 89-83

The winning was fun while it lasted.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

In front of the best home crowd of the season — and likely the Kenny Payne era — the Louisville men’s basketball team made it interesting until the final whistle, but ultimately fell to visiting NC State, 89-83, Saturday afternoon.

The Cardinals trailed by 14 with less than two minutes to play before a furious 11-0 run made it a one possession game. U of L’s achilles heel, its inability to get key defensive stops, then reared its head for a final time as a three-point play by State’s DJ Horne sunk Louisville’s upset hopes.

While U of L’s effort level all afternoon long was admirable, the Cards still struggled consistently on the defensive end. Ill-timed double teams and simple lack of awareness allowed NC State to take uncontested jumpers from pretty much the opening tip until the final whistle.

For the game, the Wolfpack shot 54.2 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from beyond the arc. Horne came off the bench to lead them with 27 points.

Louisville was once again paced by Mike James, who poured in a team-high 20 points. Curtis Williams (15), Ty-Laur Johnson (14), Brandon Huntley-Hatfield (13) and Skyy Clark (10) joined him in double figures.

There’s no doubt that everything looks better than it did a month ago, and you certainly can’t question the team’s recent effort level. What you can question is whether or not all of this is far too little, far too late.

Celebrating the effort-level in a 6-point home loss to a conference foe who seems like a fringe NCAA tournament team might be a step in the right direction, but it’s still a thousand shouts away from where this program is supposed to be in mid-January.