LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Recall the bullseye Steven Enoch said Tuesday the Louisville basketball team had on its back? Well, Georgia Tech hit the target square in the middle Wednesday night, stunning the No. 5 Cardinals 64-58 in McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.
It was the Yellow Jackets' first win over a ranked team in the last 19 games and ended UofL's 10-game winning streak, the longest in the ACC in 37 years.
For the Cards (21-4, 12-2), it was not only an ugly loss, but a costly one on two fronts. It dropped them into a first-place tie with Duke (11-2) in the loss column in the ACC. And losing to a team with a sub-.500 record (12-13) and in 10th place in the conference (6-8) is a blow to their hopes of climbing into a No. 1 seed or even retaining its projected No. 2 seed.
UofL was out of synch from the beginning, falling behind by 10 points on several occasions in the first half and trailing all the way. The Cards had five chances to tie or go ahead in the final minutes, but either missed shots or committed a turnover.
They simply didn't look engaged from the beginning. They were sloppy throughout, their defense wasn't up to snuff, they couldn't shoot and their star player was AWOL.
"That start put us behind the eight ball," UofL coach Chris Mack said on his post-game radio show. "To not be ready to play. . .it's one thing if you're missing a few shots. But the lack of persistence on the defensive end at the start of the game, to spot them a nine-point lead in the first four-minute war is inexcusable.
"It hasn't been necessarily a trend, but we didn't have a good start against Wake, we didn't have a good one against NC State. Something has to change and obviously, it starts with me. We have to figure it out. Maybe a different lineup to start the game, one that's ready to go. We didn't deserve to win the game the way we played, really for 40 minutes. We had a couple spurts where we made a couple plays, but every time we had a couple we turned the ball over."
Here's the ugliest part: UofL, which entered the game fourth nationally in 3-point percentage at 40.4 percent and 45% in conference games, managed to miss 21 of its 24 shots from beyond the arc (12.5&), including four air balls. Overall, the Cards shot a season-low 33.9 percent (19-56).
Jordan Nwora, the leading scorer in the ACC, at 19.5 points per game, scored just two on 1-of-6 overall and 0-of-4 treys. He also had four of his team's 16 turnovers. Even the usually reliable Ryan McMahon couldn't find the basket from 3-point land, going 1-for-8.
The only three players who answered the bell for Louisville were Malik Williams with 16 points and eight rebounds, Dwayne Sutton (12 and 10) and David Johnson, who contributed 13 points, five rebounds and two assists. Johnson was 5-of-12; UofL's other three guards, McMahon, Fresh Kimble and Darius Perry were 1-of-14.
To his credit, Mack tried just about everything to pull out a victory, using a number of combinations and switching to a 2-3 matchup zone that sparked a brief rally midway through the second half.
"Being put behind the eight ball to start the game was a very, very bad way to set the tone," Mack said. "I know in the first half we had five or six transition opportunities and we either turned the ball over or missed the shot, and we did the same thing a few times in the second half. When you can't score in transition with the talent we have on offense you're putting youself in a tough situation to win the game. It was just ugly on the offensive end all night.
"As a coach you always want to know what you're gonna get and tonight there were a few guys I really had no idea what we were gonna get, and then you look at the end of the game they didn't give us anything. That's a problem. You've got to have some consistency, especially with the guys who play a majority of the minutes."
Georgia Tech, avenging a 68-64 loss in the Yum! Center on Jan. 22, placed all five players in double figures, led by junior guard and new father Jose Alvarado with 18 points, including four critical free throws in the last 30 seconds.
UofL appeared to pull into a 53-53 tie when the hosts were called for a goal tend on Moses Wright's block of Johnson's layup with 1:32 remaining, but after a review the goal tend call was overturned and Wright scored on the ensuing possession to make it 55-51 at the 1:13 mark. After that, the Yellow Jackets made 8-of-9 free throws to close out the upset.
"We played so hard, I'm so proud of my team," Alvarado said. "I tell you man, my team did some great things tonight. I can't wait to get home and kiss my baby."
HEELS GAMETIME SET--UofL's game against North Carolina in the KFC Yum! Center on Feb. 22 will start at 4 p.m. and be televised on ESPN. The start time for the game, just one of three home games remaining, had not been set previously.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.