Louisville went on the road Thursday and picked up a big conference win over NC State. It looked at times like the Cards were ready to “boom” them and put the game out of reach, but NC State hung in there and made it a game down to the buzzer. Win by 20 or win by 5, a road win in the ACC is solid. Here are my six takeaways following the game…
1) Quentin Snider was fantastic
The sophomore from Ballard played his best game as a Louisville Cardinal, in my opinion. He started this one on the bench, as Rick Pitino inserted Donovan Mitchell into the starting lineup. But with Trey Lewis in foul trouble, Snider still played 32 minutes in the game. He finished with 21 points on 7-11 shooting and was also 4-6 from three. He added two assists, two steals, and only turned the ball over once (although it was a big turnover late in the game).
Those numbers are great, but what stuck out to me was the defense that Snider played late in the game on Cat Barber. As fast as Barber is, Snider hung with him and made every shot difficult. If they set a screen on Snider, the big man for Louisville (I remember Onuaku specifically once) would hedge out and give Quentin just enough time to recover and get back to Barber. On that particular play that I am recalling, Snider went for a head fake, but was still able to recover and jump again to contest the shot.
However, as much as I noticed his late defense on Barber, I won’t take away from his offense. Snider drilled some big three pointers, and it was quite lovely seeing him make spin moves in the lane and scoring over the Cat.
Barber tried his best, but he couldn’t steal the show in this one…
2) Donovan Mitchell makes unselfish plays
For someone that may be the most athletic player on the floor and can jump out of the gym (it’s a metaphor people), Donovan Mitchell sure is unselfish and it is a treat to see from the freshman.
With 15:32 left to play in the game, Cat Barber made a shot to make the score 42-39 Louisville. On the next possession, Donovan Mitchell found himself near the paint where he could have forced a shot. Instead, he kicked to an open Quentin Snider on the wing. Snider buried the three. It is now 45-39. NC State scores 5 in a row to make it 45-44.
Mitchell catches the ball on the wing and is in position to rise up and take the three. It would have been a good shot. However, Quentin Snider is in the corner, ready for a great shot. Mitchell makes the extra pass. Snider drills the three. 48-44 Cards.
On the next UofL possession, Mitchell finds Ray Spalding on a long alley-oop pass after he looked him off. Now it’s 50-44 Cards.
NC State makes a free throw to cut it to 50-45. Mitchell again finds a shooter in the corner. This time it’s Damion Lee, who knocks down the triple and gives Louisville the 53-45 lead and a nice cushion.
All of that happened in 2 minutes and 35 seconds of game action. NC State still made a push late in the game and had a chance to tie it near the end, but that little run of baskets, all set up by Mitchell, was a key point in Louisville always staying in control of the game. His stats show 3 points and 4 assists for the night. You may look at that and be underwhelmed, unless you know WHEN those 4 assists came and how big they were.
3) Rebounding was an issue
This was another game where the presence of Mangok Mathiang down low was missed. NC State won the rebounding battle 39-36, which doesn’t seem that bad. But when you look at it more closely, 19 of their 39 rebounds were offensive. So Louisville gave them 19 extra possessions in this game.
To win consistently on the road in conference play, you can’t keep giving the home team extra shots. It gives them a chance for a wide open three or just a basket in general. Or if your players pick up a foul on those extra possessions, those missed rebounds become even bigger.
Chinanu Onuaku (14) and Jaylen Johnson (7) combined for 21 of Louisville’s 36 rebounds. Nobody else had more than 2 for the entire game. I praised the play of Quentin Snider earlier, but he didn’t have 1 rebound. The guards have to be active on the boards.
4) When Chinanu doesn’t foul
Talk about a different player. Louisville had one guy with 4 fouls and four guys with 3 fouls. Chinanu finished with 1 foul. Believe that? Because of that, he was able to play with much more freedom. He scored 12 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. He was an efficient 6-9 from the field and made a short jumper to add to his post moves that he made.
This team can go to another level if Onuaku stays on the floor. He was able to play 32 minutes in this one, and that was huge.
5) TEAM win
It’s nice to know that when some guys aren’t having their best games, others will step up. Trey Lewis was in foul trouble all game and was never able to get in a rhythm. He only played 19 minutes. He was 0-4 from the field and finished with just 4 points. Who steps up? Quentin Snider, as previously stated.
With Mangok out, someone has to step up in the four spot. Jaylen Johnson and Ray Spalding both played solid games. Johnson finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds, while Spalding scored 12 points on 6-8 shooting.
Damion Lee hit some big shots, but still only finished with 13 points. So on a night where Lee and Lewis combined for 17 points, the youth of the team stepped up in a big way to help carry this team to victory. It was the ultimate TEAM win.
6) Finished the game
As I said, there were a few moments where it looked like Louisville was going to blow the doors off of the game and run away with it. NC State fought back and it came down to the wire. But you know what? Louisville finished the game. They finished the job. You have to expect the home team to make a run, especially when they have scorers like Cat Barber and Maverick Rowan (tried to get through this whole post without saying his name).
So NC State made their run. But Louisville did not fold. Would last year’s team fold? Maybe. Maybe too much one-on-one ball down the stretch. But that’s neither here nor there, because there is no way to know. The point is, this team picked up a big win on the road, and continued to grow up in the process.
The chemistry of this team amazes me. They look like a group of juniors and seniors that have been together for 3-4 years. They make it easy to forget that it is basically a brand new team. And this brand new team sure is fun to watch.