By Sam Draut–
After being suffocated by Virginia’s defense on Saturday, coach Rick Pitino’s team quickly put their worst performance of the season behind them.
Damion Lee’s hot second-half shooting led Louisville to a 71-65 win over second-ranked North Carolina at the KFC YUM! Center on Monday.
Lee scored 24 points and made four three-pointers and Louisville (18-4 overall, 7-2 in the ACC) picked up its biggest win of the year. The fifth-year senior’s best stretch came with 10 minutes left in the second half. With Louisville leading 49-47, Lee made two three-pointers in a 55-second span to give Louisville a five-point lead.
“He does that all the time,” Mitchell said. “There is no limit to where he can shoot it from.”
Lee iced the game with 8.3 seconds left when he made two free-throws to extend the lead to six points.
“He is a big-time basketball player, he is a big-time scorer,” Pitino said.
The fifth-year graduate transfer from Drexel played all 40 minutes, shooting 8 of 12 from the field and added five rebounds. After the game, Pitino said Lee can handle playing the entire game.
“He is a well-conditioned athlete, I don’t worry about it at all,” Pitino said.
Louisville held an eight-point lead with 5:15 left in the second half, but North Carolina (19-3 overall, 8-1 in the ACC) trimmed the lead to two points with 35 seconds left. Louisville led 67-65 with 26 seconds left when Trey Lewis made two free-throws to stretch the Louisville lead to two possessions.
Earlier in the game, with 1:42 left, the fifth-year senior made a layup to give Louisville a six-point lead. Lewis struggled in the first half and only scored one point, but scored eight points in the second half.
“I have to credit my teammates for staying in my ear,” Lewis said. “I focused on making winning plays.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Louisville’s defense made it difficult to work the ball into the paint. The Tar Heels were averaging 85.8 points per game, but the Cardinals held North Carolina to 34.5-percent from the field and a season-low 65 points.
Despite playing on nine minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, Chinanu Onuaku picked up a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He made 5 of 8 field goals and scored eight points in the second half while helping to boost Louisville’s interior defense.
“We stayed focused and we listened to coach’s game plan and we execute,” Onuaku said.
While Louisville limited North Carolina’s interior offense, the Cardinals were able to work the ball inside on their end. Pitino said his team had 60 paint touches, the highest amount in a game that he can remember.
“We did a fabulous job of making sure that we got into the paint,” Pitino said.
Led by guard Quentin Snider, the Cardinals were able to work the ball into the post and around the low-block. Louisville had 36 points in the paint and Pitino said his starting point guard played a large role in the interior play.
Snider had six points and seven assists in 36 minutes of play.
“If I’m judging a point guard, he was great,” Pitino said.
The marquee win of the season will be followed by a full week of practice before Louisville hosts Boston College on Saturday. With nine games left in the regular season, Lee said “the ride is far from over.”
Louisville is sole-possession of second place in the ACC and one game behind North Carolina for first place.