By Annie Moore
The Louisville Cardinals opened NCAA Tournament play on Thursday night, when it defeated the Manhattan Jaspers 71-64 in an instant classic. After trading shots for the majority of the game, Luke Hancock stepped up in the final minutes of regulation to lift the Cards over the Jaspers.
“I think we needed this,” said Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino. “This was a great win for us, we can move on, and I think it will really help us. I’m glad we had a tight game that we had to fight back.”
Louisville got out to a slow start, shooting just 36% (12-of-33) from the field in the first half. Luke Hancock and Russ Smith each had eight points in the first half to lead the Cards. Montrezl Harrell had six points, and led the team in first-half rebounds with five, and blocks with two.
Smith had two steals on the night, which made him the all-time steals leader in University of Louisville history. The previous record was 245 steals, set by Peyton Siva.
While Louisville’s offense was sluggish in the first half, so was the Jaspers’. Each team made 12 shots, with Manhattan attempting 27. As is the case so many times, free throws were the difference, the Cards were 10-12 from the line, whereas Manhattan was just 2-2.
Headed into the second half, the Cards came out flat. Manhattan scored a quick four points to cut Louisville’s lead to just two points. It took Louisville four minutes to score a point in the second half.
The Jaspers tied it up 35-35 with 17:15 left in the game, and took its first lead with 16:22 left. A dunk from Montrezl Harrell with 16:04 left tied the score back up at 37-37.
The teams traded points in a second half that proved to be a battle to the very end. The second half saw constant lead changes, as the Cards piled up fouls and struggled to connect from outside the three-point arc. The Cards were 4-13 on the night, whereas the Jaspers were 3-5.
But Hancock never said die. The senior scored eight points in the final two minutes of regulation to put Louisville on top when the final buzzer sounded.
Next up for Louisville, the Billikens of St. Louis University.