INDIANAPOLIS – Louisville had a full weekend planned for its return to the NCAA Tournament.
It may have taken a little longer and little more work than expected, but eventually they got the job done Friday. Now they’ll have to do it all over again Sunday.
Mangok Mathiang scored 18 points, Deng Adel and Quentin Snider each had 16 and the second-seeded Cardinals pulled away from Jacksonville State 78-63 in the first round of the Midwest Regional.
“We created a lot of turnovers off our press,” Snider said. “Once we got on our breaks, that’s when we did our best.”
Clearly, they learned some lessons from last week’s one-and-done experience at the ACC Tournament.
They avoided foul trouble. They kept their foot on the gas. And when they were challenged, the Cardinals kept finding answers that got the mostly red-and-black clad crowd on its feet.
Louisville took full advantage of its opportunities, outscoring the Gamecocks 44-14 in the paint, 24-3 on second-chance points and 11-0 edge on fast-break points. That was more than enough to ensure the Cardinals, who had lost three of their previous five, of their fifth consecutive opening-round win.
They sat out last season’s tourney because of school-imposed postseason ban for alleged recruiting violations.
“The game was determined by our inability to rebound the ball. It wasn’t because of a lack of effort,” Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper. “Their length and their athleticism caused us some problems.”
It sure wasn’t as easy as most expected, though.
Louisville (25-8) gave up the first eight points and trailed for the first 13 minutes.
When the Cardinals got their defense fixed and Jacksonville State (20-15) flummoxed – the devastating combination quickly turned an interesting contest into a decidedly one-sided affair.
Jacksonville State came into the game full of confidence after four straight wins.
And 7-foot center Norbertas Giga played did everything he could to keep the Ohio Valley Conference tourney champs close. He had a career-high 30 points, nine rebounds and was 11 of 13 from the field and 5 of 5 on 3-pointers. Malcolm Drumwright added 12 points and Greg Tucker had 11.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to pull the upset.
Louisville flipped the game with an 8-2 run late in the first half to take its first lead. The Cardinals closed the half on a 9-4 run to make it 38-31 and opened the second half on a 10-2 run to make it 48-33.
Jacksonville State cut the deficit to 10 midway through the second half, then got within 61-52 with 6:53 to go before running out of steam.
“When they shoot 50 percent, go 10 for 19 from the 3 and you still win by 15, you have to take it,” Pitino said.
Louisville: The Cardinals are seeded second for the third time in tourney history and won national titles each of the two previous times. It’s too early to start contemplating how far this run could go. But Louisville has won by 15-point margins in each of its two games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season.
Jacksonville State: After going from last in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason picks to conference tourney champs, the Gamecocks’ magical run came to an end. But the future still looks bright. Three starters will return next season as coach Ray Harper begins his second season with the Gamecocks.
Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell finished with nine points, a career-high 10 rebounds and a career-high five assists.
Christian Cunning had five blocks for the Gamecocks and Drumwright wound up with six assists.
Louisville faces seventh-seeded Michigan on Sunday for a ticket to the Sweet 16. The Cardinals have won all three meetings in the series, including the 2013 national championship game.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.