By Matt Bradshaw —
Head coach Chris Mack offered Cardinal fans the first official look at men’s basketball with the team’s annual intrasquad scrimmage. White team defeated red team 55-41 after trailing by nine points during the first half.
“This time of the year, you’re always going to have some good, some bad and some things you have to clean up,” Mack said. “I thought today was a good first step.”
Junior V. J. King led the white team with 19 points and five rebounds. Sophomore Jordan Nwora posted a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Redshirt junior Steven Enoch controlled the paint with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Graduate student Christen Cunningham guided the red team from point guard, scoring 15 points and adding five assists. Sophomore Malik Williams played well in the paint and beyond the arc, recording 11 points with six rebounds.
Starting for the red team: Cunningham, Williams, redshirt junior Dwayne Sutton, and sophomores Darius Perry and Jo Griffin.
Starting for the white team: graduate student Khwan Fore, redshirt junior Ryan McMahon, Nwora, Enoch and King.
Nwora and Perry traded three-pointers in the opening minutes.
Williams powered a run for the red team with five straight points, adding a block on the defensive side, for a 12-8 lead five minutes into the game.
“Today I thought [Williams] was a lot more assertive,” Mack said. “That’s gonna be who he needs to be starting Monday at practice.”
Enoch overpowered Williams with some solid work in the paint for the white team, and Sutton answered with five straight points for a 17-10 red-team lead.
“[Sutton] is a winner, he’s going to be on the floor,” Mack said. “He’s not elite in any one thing, but no matter what you ask him to do he’ll work his best to get it done. He seems to come up with loose balls, he seems to not worry about size and quickness. He’s a “yes sir, I’ll do whatever you ask” type of player, and those are fun to coach.”
Cunningham played the facilitator for the red team and led the way at guard. The white team continued to trail closely while the graduate student found a way to score in the lane or pass to his teammates.
King and Nwora found a groove midway through the half and started making shots. Sophomore Jacob Redding nailed a three-pointer to bring the white team within two points of the lead 29-27.
“Although white hit some shots, I didn’t think their offense necessarily generated their shots,” Mack said. “So much as they just made a shot one-on-one.”
With the score tied 31-31, King and Nwora combined for 11 points to close out the half. The white team led 42-35 at the half.
King started the second half where he left off and scored five straight points.
“I like to use V. J.’s size, depending on the matchup,” Mack said. “We’re operating with a smaller team and we need to be able to creatively find ways to get the ball closer to the basket, not just rely on the true five’s. We want [King] to be physical and not play pretty all the time.”
Williams, Cunningham and Perry combined for six points but it was not enough to catch the white team in a shortened 10 minute half.
White defeated red 55-41.
Captains lead the way
Cunningham and King, co-captains of men’s basketball, led their respective teams not just in points but also performance.
Cunningham will become a key facilitator of the Cardinal offense as the season goes on. The graduate transfer’s play is reminiscent of Peyton Siva in the way he controls the ball, attacks the lane and finds his teammates.
“[Cunningham] had a really good presence on the floor,” Mack said. “He ran his team. When he was out there, I thought he tried to make the right plays. He’s strong. He’s not the tallest guy in the world. He uses his body in creative ways and found a couple of guys as well.”
King has had problems finishing in the past, and one preseason scrimmage doesn’t necessarily tell all. Nonetheless, the junior shot 64 percent from the field and appeared comfortable beyond the arc and driving to the rim.
“V. J. is one of the hardest workers we have,” Mack said. “I thought today he played extremely aggressively. The harder you work the harder it is to surrender. I don’t think anyone is going to outwork V. J. King to be honest.”
Sophomores Nwora and Williams need to stay consistent
Nwora impressed fans with explosive play and a double-double performance. The sophomore had a block and two steals that got the crowd going, but also led both sides with four turnovers.
“[Nwora] can mean a whole lot,” Mack said. “He has to be effective on both ends of the floor. He’s a much better offensive player right now. He’s an extremely explosive scorer, but he also had three turnovers in the first eight minutes of our scrimmage. Those three turnovers happened because he was casual.”
Williams started the game with a quick five points and added six rebounds as the game went on. The center missed some easy shots around the basket as well, and coach Mack says he needs to do better in practice.
“I think Malik can be a better practice player based on what I saw today,” Mack said. “We’re going to need him to be better than he was as a freshman. He has to be able to affect things at the rim on both ends of the floor. He missed a couple of bunnies right around the basket.”
For Nwora and Williams to avoid the sophomore slump, the pair needs to distinguish themselves as elite players on both sides of the court.
Men’s basketball faces Bellarmine at home in their first exhibition game on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m.
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Photos by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal