Cards roll past Georgia Tech, claim top spot in ACC standings

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LOUISVILLE (KT) — The game clock and shot clock malfunctioned in McCammish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday afternoon, delaying the start of the Louisville-Georgia Tech basketball game. Once the problem was fixed and the game finally got underway, it was over just as quickly.

 

Louisville (13-5 (4-1) left shorthanded Tech (10-8, 2-3) a Rambling Wreck, encountering little if any resistance en route to a dominating 79-51 victory, their third in a row, as Jordan Nwora continued his recent hot streak, Christen Cunningham played a brilliant floor game and the Cards' revolving door centers controlled the paint.

 

And now, look who's in the thick of the crowded Atlantic Coast Conference race. Louisville is in a six-way tie for the league lead with Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Syracuse — all of whom, by the way, coach Chris Mack's team still has to play with a schedule that gets progressively tougher. The Cards also made a strong case for breaking into the Top-25 for the first time since early last season. They were first among teams receiving votes in last week's Associated Press poll.

 

The latest win perhaps should come with an asterisk. The Yellow Jackets were already dead last in the ACC in scoring and they were forced to play without two of their top three scorers and a substitute, who were averaging a combined 29 points and nine rebounds, due to injuries and an undisclosed personal reason.

 

"We tried not to focus on the fact they were going to miss some players," Cards center Malik Williams said. "We just wanted to focus on taking care of the things we needed to and we knew if we did that we would come out victorious like we did."

 

The Yellow Jackets never had a chance, with Louisville racing to a 30-6 lead in the first 12 minutes. It was 43-16 at halftime and the lead ballooned to as many as 38 points (67-29) in the second half.

 

"I was really pleased with our guys' readiness to play," Mack said. "We're coaching college guys and they see on Twitter that three (Tech) players aren't playing and you never know what they're thinking. So for our team to come out in the first half and rely on our defense and play hard, that was the biggest thing. If we had given Georgia Tech some life in the first 10-15 minutes, it might have been a different game."

 

With apologies to the coach, that's highly doubtful. Not only didn't Tech have the firepower to match Louisville on offense, but the Jackets' defense was helpless against the visitors' smooth-running attack. The Cards shot 50 percent in the first half, 47 percent for the game and had a season-high 21 assists.

 

Meanwhile, Tech managed only eight points in the first 15 minutes as Louisville put together scoring runs of 16-2 and 14-0. Mack charts what he calls a "kill," which is three consecutive stops on defense. Louisville had eight of those while holding the losers to 38.0 percent shooting, including 6-of-24 (25 percent) in the first half, and creating 17 turnovers.

 

"It's the reason we had the margin we did," Mack said of the kills. "It puts us out in transition, it means Georgia Tech's not scoring, and unless we're woefully inept on the offensive end we're gonna build up a lead. We played with a lot of juice on the defensive end. As we saw, when the ball doesn't go in against Pitt, if you can't stop anybody, it's a recipe to lose."

 

"Louisville played really well," Tech coach Josh Pastner said. "Nwora was excellent. He really got them going and it just kind of snowballed on us."

 Jordan, coming off a career-best 32 points against Boston College, scored 25 points, hitting 10-of-16 shots, including 3-of-7 trifectas. He also tied Dwayne Sutton for the team-high in rebounds with eight. With 4 1/2  minutes remaining in the first half, it was Nwora 20, Georgia Tech 8.

 

"Jordan has been on a streak all season and these last two games he has really started going off," Williams said. "He's playing amazing for us on offense and he's even picking up on the defensive end and playing a lot better D. He's playing really well, so we definitely want to look for him and get him the ball."

 

Williams also contributed to the Cards’ fast start, with 10 points in the first 12 minutes. He finished with 13 points, and his partner in the middle, Steven Enoch, scored 15. They also combined for 11 rebounds.

Much of the time, Nwora, Williams, and Enoch were delivered the ball by Cunningham, who dished out a career-high 11 assists. He also had nine points and didn't commit a turnover in 29 minutes against Georgia Tech's unorthodox zone defense.

 

"It's one thing if a team is man-to-man or a traditional zone," Mack said. "Eleven assists is great, but the zero turnovers are probably more impressive, especially against a funky defense. I felt, for the most part, we did a really good job in half-court generating some good looks."

 

As well as the Cards played, there were still some blips. They went scoreless for nearly four minutes late in the first half, and the Jackets scored nine straight points during a 3 1/2-minute stretch in the second period.

 

"There's still some teaching moments that happen during the course of the game," Mack said. "I think a few of those happened sort of letting off the gas pedal and playing the score a little bit. But for the most part, I think our team is beginning to buy in knowing that when you go on the road a team might go on a run and we're going to be able to stay in games with our defense."

 

"We talked at halftime that we needed to come out and give them a pop in the mouth and not give them any life," Williams added. "I believe we did an all right job with it. 79-51 is a good win."

 

They should savor it while they can. Now Louisville will play five of its next seven games against ranked teams, beginning with No. 17/16 NC State (15-3, 3-2) Thursday night in the KFC Yum! Center.

 

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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