No. 18 Louisville emphasizing late-game focus at Syracuse
Louisville coach Chris Mack turned to humor as a defense mechanism after seeing his team's defense nearly squander a seven-point lead with 17 seconds remaining in its last outing.
Perhaps with last Tuesday's 23-point second-half collapse against Duke still fresh in his mind, Mack jokingly announced his retirement to reporters moments after Louisville eked out a 56-55 win over Clemson on Saturday. Mack then added that he might have retired "had we not blocked that shot at the very end."
Sophomore forward Jordan Nwora provided the honors with the late block, "allowing" Mack to return to the sideline Wednesday night when the 18th-ranked Cardinals (18-8, 9-4 ACC) visit Syracuse (17-8, 8-4).
"Down the stretch again, we have to figure out ways to close games better," Mack said. "I told our team mental errors and physical errors cannot be tolerated in winning time."
Graduate transfer Christen Cunningham scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half and went 6-for-11 shooting from the field to counter the sputtering performances of the other four starters, who combined to go 8-for-29 from the floor.
Cunningham has either scored or recorded an assist on 50.7 percent of Louisville's field goals over the last three games.
"Obviously we could have finished better, could have closed better, but it's a lot better feeling (Saturday) than it was the last two games," Cunningham said.
Nwora, who averages a team-best 17.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, made just 4 of 13 shots and committed six turnovers, including one before his timely block against the Tigers.
Dwayne Sutton answered five straight double-digit performances with a dud against Clemson. The junior forward, second on the team with 10.9 points per game, finished with just four on 2-of-9 shooting.
Syracuse endured its fair share of scoring woes in its last outing. The Orange fell for the second time in three games after shooting 35 percent (21-for-60) from the field and 20 percent from 3-point range (5-for-25) in last Wednesday's 73-58 loss to North Carolina State.
"We're not winning many games shooting 20 percent from the 3 and 35 from the 2," coach Jim Boeheim said. "We're just not going to win with offense like that."
Tyus Battle, who averages a team-best 17.4 points per game, finished with just seven versus the Wolfpack after shooting 3-for-9 from the field. The junior guard had made 16 of 28 shot attempts in his previous two games and made all 11 of his free throws to highlight his 25-point performance in Syracuse's 78-73 win over Louisville on Feb. 5, 2018.
Battle joined backcourt mate Frank Howard in shooting 7-for-15 from the field in the previous contest against the Cardinals. Howard finished with 22 points in that game and added 21 versus North Carolina State after shooting 1-for-12 from the floor in his previous two contests.
Junior forward Elijah Hughes, who is second on the team with 13.6 points per game, had just six against the Wolfpack. He is shooting 11-for-38 from the field in the last four contests for the Orange, who hope to avert back-to-back losses for the first time since Dec. 15-18.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 20, 2019