By Sam Draut–
It won’t be a win Louisville uses for its tournament resume in March, but the 75-71 road victory against Georgia Tech on Saturday was what the Cardinals needed heading into a tough stretch of ACC play.
Anas Mahmoud scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, and Louisville (16-3 overall, 5-1 in the ACC) came back from an eight-point second half deficit to pick up its third consecutive win.
While the usual suspects contributed; Damion Lee scored 17 points and Chinanu Onuaku had his sixth-straight double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, it was Mahmoud that helped to spark the second half rally.
The 7-foot sophomore showed off a variety of post moves and made 5 of 6 field goals in the second half. Mahmoud also made 3 of 4 free-throws in the final two minutes to help the Cardinals seal the victory.
“Without a question, the key to the game, in the second half, was going to Anas Mahmoud,” coach Rick Pitino said. “He’s got a great low-post game.”
Mahmoud added four rebounds to go along with a career-high in scoring.
“In warmups I felt good,” Mahmoud said. “The ball felt good in my hands.”
Much to the ire of Pitino, the four-spot has struggled to provide consistent production throughout the season.
It has been a revolving door circling around Mahmoud, Jaylen Johnson and Ray Spalding.
Though Mahmoud’s performance against Georgia Tech will not end the carousel at the power-forward position, his improved play should be comforting for Pitino as Louisville faces a brutal 10-game stretch.
Even if Mahmoud’s slender 215-pound frame is pushed around similar to what Georgia Tech forward Nick Jacobs did, who finished with 16 points, Mahmoud is the most potent scoring threat of the Cardinals three power-forwards.
Spalding’s great length at 6-foot-10 disrupts passing lanes, but he has yet himself as a capable scorer in the half-court offense.
Johnson is inherently stronger and sturdier than Mahmoud, and at times has rebounded well, but the sophomore from Ypsilanti, Michigan still seems uncomfortable with the ball.
Eight of Louisville’s final 12 games come against teams in the RPI Top 50, so close contests will become the norm in the final third of the year.
In the close contests, having a competent low-post scorer like Mahmoud to compliment the foul troubled Onuaku will help to alleviate pressure off of Pitino’s lineups.
“Per minute played, he’s the best stat-stuffer on the team,” Pitino said.
Beyond the power-forward position, what does the win over Georgia Tech mean?
With the win, Louisville is in sole possession of second-place in the ACC.
But, after putting together two strong defensive performances against Pitt and Florida State, Louisville took a step back against Georgia Tech (11-8 overall, 1-5 in the ACC).
Louisville forced 11 turnovers and only scored eight points off of the takeaways. In contrast, the Cardinals forced 16 turnovers and scored 23 points off the turnovers against Florida State.
Georgia Tech shot 24-for-57 from the field and made 19 free-throws off of 17 personal fouls.
Pitino said his team had a record-low five deflections at halftime, with 40 being the goal every game. The Cardinals tallied up 17 deflections in the second half.
The defense will need to improve, but the addition of Mahmoud’s offensive capabilities comes at the right time for a Louisville team facing difficult stretch.