By Haley O’Shaughnessy
Not only was a win expected from the Cardinals against Cleveland State, a textbook blowout was. The Vikings entered the contest Wednesday coming off of an overtime loss to Savannah State, 87-83. The victorious Savannah State played Louisville next, and was massacred, 87-26. To say that Cleveland State was expected to compete closely, much less win, was a stretch.
The Cardinals still won, 45-33, but in a far different fashion. The expectations of a blowout never panned out, and the storyline turned sour almost immediately into the game.
The game started slow offensively, and block-heavy on the other end of the court. Forward Montrezl Harrell and freshman combo forward/center Chinanu Onuaku blocked a combined eight shots in the half. The offensive end was not nearly as dominant, with the Cardinals missing 13 of the team’s first 18 shots.
As the half elapsed, the finishing and passing was stronger from Louisville. Still, the Vikings remained close thanks to guard Trey Lewis, who contributed 18 of Cleveland State’s 22 halftime points. The half closed at 26-22 with the Cardinals leading.
The curtains for the second half opened with a Cleveland State basket that drew the Vikings within two. After a defensive stop and a three by Terry Rozier, the Cardinals pulled away to a less-threatening 31-26. Rozier’s three marked only the second successful attempt out of 15 up to that point. The Cardinals ended the night 3-20 from the three-point line. The pace remained slow through the middle of the latter half, with both offenses stalling out on multiple attempts.
With six minutes to go, the score bumped up very little to 38-33. An essential three-pointer from Chris Jones and a free throw from Wayne Blackshear separated the Cardinals from the Vikings even more. Then, a smooth finish from Montrezl Harrell moved Louisville up to its biggest lead of the night thus far at 44-33.
The jump of offense at the end from the Cardinals won the game, despite Cleveland State’s Lewis finishing with 24. Pitino said,
“You can lose these types of games, it happens all the time. We won it with defense… Cleveland St made us look bad with a great guard performance… You’ve got to win ugly sometimes. ”
Cleveland State finished the game shooting 25% from the field, and Louisville was not much better at 31.9%. It was not the buckets Louisville made, but the points the Cardinals stopped, that saved them from the nightmare before Thanksgiving.