By Derek DeBurger
Louisville needed an overtime push to topple the mighty New Mexico State Aggies.
Of the 361 other teams in Division One college basketball, there is not one that is afraid to play Louisville right now.
Louisville is one of the winningest programs of all time with three national championships, 10 Final Four appearances, and the sixth most weeks spent in the AP Top 25; yet it was the Aggies who were the more confident team for the majority of the game.
After some of the most inspiring performances of the Kenny Payne era the Cards came out lackadaisical, missing their first seven shot attempts. Their first make came almost seven full minutes into the game.
The first half was spent undoing nearly all of the goodwill earned by this team in New York. Brandon Huntley-Hatfield was given no paint touches early—neither was the rest of the team—and he responded by not getting involved in the rest of the game until late. Ty-Laur Johnson didn’t start the game, although he did finish. I know there are many coaches who like to have one of their five most talented players come off the bench to provide a boost with the first substitution, but Johnson is just far too talented to bring off the bench.
The Aggies pushed the lead to 10 at multiple points in the first half. It wasn’t until right before halftime that a fire was lit under the Cards, as they started to play with more intensity and get downhill to score right at the rim. Louisville was helped tremendously by a generous home whistle, too. The Aggies were called for 41 total fouls in the game.
New Mexico State led 30-28 going into the half, but right out of the break, a three from Skyy Clark gave the Cards their first lead of the game. The next six to seven minutes was a back-and-forth shootout as the Cards and Aggies exchanged blows and traded leads.
After the initial spike in energy out of the locker rooms, the Aggies pushed the lead to nine, and after a small comeback effort by the Cards, the Aggies went back up by eight with just 1:18 left on the clock. It took an 8-0 run in about a minute to tie the game at 73-73, but after Mike James fouled Kaosi Ezeagu with 1.5 seconds left it seemed like all that work was for nothing. With two shots at the free throw line, Ezeagu had two chances to wrap the game up, but he missed both shots and the game went to overtime.
The effort was noticeably different for the Cards to look like they were trying to win. Six players for New Mexico State fouled out and the Aggies didn’t have enough players to substitute so they had to play the final minute with just four players on the court.
Five on four was just too much for the Aggies, and the Cards came away with the victory 90-84 in overtime.
New Mexico State was down their best player due to illness, those who did play were in foul trouble from the beginning of the game, and it still took a miraculous effort to force overtime and win. Louisville shot 49 free throws in the game, making 36 of them. The Cards were gifted 36 points, and this wasn’t a blowout.
I don’t know who the Cards think they are that they can stroll in and beat whoever they’re facing. It has been proven time and again that this team cannot take any opponents lightly, yet they continue to come out flat against teams that they are vastly more talented than.
The Cards are 3-3 on the long, long year.
Photo Courtesy // Chris Carter, Louisville Athletics