LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - When Jordan Nwora had almost finished his night's work Wednesday after applying the dagger in the final minute to Boston College's spirited comeback, he virtually skipped back upcourt on defense, giddy with relief.
His 3-pointer from the left of the key off a pass from Christen Cunningham with 51 seconds left all but assured Louisville's 80-70 ACC victory over Boston College (9-7, 0-4) after the Cardinals (12-5, 3-1) had blown most of a 23-point lead in front of a nervous announced crowd of 14,898 in the KFC Yum Center.
"I knew it was a big shot, yeah," Nwora said. "I knew all we had to do then was take care of the ball and the game was over."
A few seconds later, the 6-8 sophomore forward put an exclamation point on UofL's win with a driving one-handed dunk, giving him 32 points.
In so doing, Nwora put his versatility on display while hitting 12-of-16 shots, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range. In addition to his deep treys from both wings and the top of the key, he created his own opportunities by scoring on drives -- including a hestitation move that left his defender flat-footed -- and dunks.
"He's just a tough guy," BC coach Jim Christian said. "He's a hard guy to match up, because he doesn't need much space. His body is totally different from last year. He's without question the most improved offensive player in this league from what I've seen. He doesn't need much space, he can drive the ball, he's confident, he shoots the ball with range. He's a good offensive rebounder; he's got the whole package."
Nwora also grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out four assists. His 30/10 was the first for a Louisville player in a 40-minute game since Luke Whitehead put up the same numbers against Murray State in 2001.
"Jordan played as good an offfensive game as I've seen from a guy, and I've had some really talented offensive players," UofL coach Chris Mack said. "There were a few times where he made the 'one more pass,' as we like to call them, which is really the right one, and he got guys (guard) Khwan (Fore) a couple open looks because he's making the right play."
"Obviously, I knew I was scoring," said Nwora, whose previous career high was 24 points against Indiana earlier this season. "But I didn't necessarily know how many. I was worried about closing the game out. Not losing was all that was on my mind."
That didn't seem like a possibility when the Cards, who had erased a 12-point deficit in the first half, opened a 71-48 lead that stood at 73-52 with just under eight minutes remaining. Then BC turned up its defensive pressure, forcing turnovers and eight straight misses, to spark a 16-0 run and pull to within 75-70 at the 1:50 mark. But the Eagles didn't score again.
"The lesson we need to learn from this game is how to handle pressure down the stretch," Nwora said. "There was no reason to let them back in the game. That put the pressure back on us."
After going seven minutes without a field goal and with only Cunningham's two free throws, the Cards finally regrouped before it was too late. Trapped under the basket, Cunningham spotted Nwora open behind the arc and fired a pass for one of his game-high eight assists to go along with nine points and four rebounds.
"They do a really good job of getting Nwora the ball at the right time," said Christian, whose team lost for the 29th time in its last 30 ACC road games. "And I think one of the things that's underrated for them is Cunningham. He gets the ball to guys at the right time, and that's what a good point guard is supposed to do. He does a really good job."
Before Nwora got hot -- he had only seven points in the first 16 minutes -- Dwayne Sutton almost single-handedly pulled UofL out of a 12-point hole (28-17) by scoring nine straight points. The Cards ended the first half on a devastating 18-1 run in the final four minutes and 27-5 in the last seven minutes as Nwora and Sutton combined for 23 of them. The hosts carried over that offensive efficiency in the second half, when they hit 10 of their first 13 shots. Then came BC's furious rally.
Sutton delivered his third straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Malik Williams added eight points and eight rebounds. Jordan Chatman led the Eagles with 21 points, while Kye Bowman had 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. BC was without its second-leading scorer, freshman guard Wynston Tabbs, who didn't make the trip due to illness.
"That's life in a new league for me," Mack said. "I thought for a stretch our guys were rolling, I thought we were playing well, the run we had to end the half and then carried over. Give Boston College credit. They changed defenses, and we obviously didn't handle it very well. It became a tight game, but at the same time, I give our guys credit for being able to withstand a heck of a push and a heck of a run by BC and still have the fortitude and calm enough nerves to make a few shots and get a few stops in the last four minutes."
McMAHON HURT--Junior guard Ryan McMahon left the game with 4:26 remaining after suffering a leg injury diving onto the floor in a loose ball scramble, but Mack said he doesn't think it's serious.
"He was telling (trainer) Fred (Hina), 'Hey Fred, I can practice tomorrow,' so that's usually a good sign," Mack said. "Other than that, I don't really know a whole lot. I haven't talked to Ryan. Talked to Fred, and he felt like he should be OK. As with any injury, you just have to see what happens after a good night's sleep."
Louisville will travel to Atlanta Saturday to face Georgia Tech (10-6, 2-1) at 4 p.m.
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