By Derek DeBurger

Louisville rallied past the Bellarmine Knights to a 73-68 win in the rematch of the battle for Derby City.

The Cards did a much better job at limiting backdoor cuts and staying focused through the duration of the shot clock, putting together an improved defensive showing compared to last year’s loss.

This game was still closer than it should’ve been. The first half was a back-and-forth affair until less than five minutes left when the Knights went on a modest 6-1 run to end to go into the locker room with a 27-22 lead.

Ty-Laur Johnson was noticeably absent in the first half, but early in the second he came off the bench and provided instant energy. Johnson, with the help of fellow point guard Skyy Clark, was able to get the offense moving quickly from player to player, going from look to look until there was one open enough that it would be reckless to pass up.

The ball movement also sparked the energy for the five Cardinals on the court, with Louisville playing with far more pep in their step than any of the opposing Knights. After starting the second half down five the Cards took the lead and pushed it to 12 points, playing good fundamental basketball by boxing out and stringing together strong defensive stops.

The Knights were able to cut the lead some, but they were struggling to break past the six to seven point mark. With 42 seconds left in the game, Clark found JJ Traynor for a jaw-dropping dunk off a picture-perfect pass. It felt like all hope was lost for the Knights with their deficit only amounting to seven points. Bellarmine extended the game by getting quick buckets and fouling ASAP on the inbounds. This method worked pretty well; the Knights cut the Cards’ lead to just two points. Louisville clutched up when needed most, however, and they began to nail their free throws and force defensive stops to end the game.

A win is a win, but…

Like most wins nowadays, the results show us a mixed bag. Let’s focus on the good.

The freshmen on the roster are good enough to contribute now, and provide an excellent foundation for the current rebuild if they choose to stay past this year. Johnson may not be the best player on the team but he is without question the emotion on the sleeve of this team — the team just plays better and looks more alive when he is on the court. Kaleb Glenn is another standout rookie who provides good minutes, hauling in seven rebounds in just 12 minutes of play. Dennis Evans and Curtis Williams are two more freshmen who have bright futures, but will have to contribute in more specialized spots with their amazing talents.

Johnson and Clark need to get more minutes together. A two point guard lineup is a very modern style of play, and one that works for this team. When Clark and Johnson are on the court at the same time the offense just looks more smooth, and the confidence on the offensive end turns into hustle on the defensive end. I don’t know what the reason is for keeping Johnson on the bench for so much of the game, but whatever it is it’s not good enough.

There’s a lot more I could say, but the most important takeaway is that the Cards win and improve to 4-3 on the season, matching the win total of last year’s squad after just seven games.

File Photos // Vinny Porco, The Louisville Cardinal