No. 3 Louisville beats Fairfield 71-57
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Louisville’s 21st straight win wasn’t what Rick Pitino would have liked it to be.
Chris Jones scored 15 points and Montrezl Harrell added 14 points and 12 rebounds to lead the No. 3 Cardinals to a 71-57 victory over Fairfield on Saturday in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament.
But the Cardinals (5-0) committed 26 fouls and turned the ball over 14 times against the Stags (1-4).
“Tonight we were just flat in every phase of the game,” Pitino said. “We were flat offensively with only nine assists. Our two point guards turned it over eight times, which they haven’t been doing. We didn’t do the little things necessary to exploit the weaknesses of Fairfield. We were late to the glass a lot. A lot of things were disturbing but we’ll go ahead.”
Maurice Barrow paced Fairfield (1-4) with 14 points and Marcus Gilbert chipped in with 11.
Louisville, which has three national titles, will be looking for its 27th title in a regular-season tournament when it faces No. 24 North Carolina in Sunday’s championship game. The Tar Heels beat Richmond, 82-72 in Saturday’s first semifinal.
“This wasn’t a close game,” Pitino said. “You’re going to see close (Sunday). That’s if we don’t get blown out. If we play this way tomorrow, it won’t even be a game. I think their size is going to give us a little trouble. They do a lot of good things defensively and they’re long. They offensive rebound very well.”
The Stags stayed with the Cardinals for much of the first half and led 11-9 midway through it. But Louisville went on a 28-12 run to close the half and led by as many as 21 after the break.
Louisville, which was playing its first game away from home this season, got a balanced scoring effort. Wayne Blackshear had 11 points and Russ Smith added 10 points and seven rebounds. Luke Hancock, who has been recovering from a strained left Achilles, had nine points in 17 minutes, and was 7 of 7 from the foul line.
This was the Cardinals first game away from home this season, and Hancock said the energy just wasn’t there.
“We’ve had every game in front of big crowds at the Yum! Center,” he said. “They had a lot more fans. We just didn’t come out with enough energy. We’ve got to come next time right from the start, especially against Carolina.”
The teams combined for 53 fouls in what was far from a crisp contest.
Louisville, which came in averaging just six turnovers, the best in the nation, had eight before halftime. Fairfield used a full-court press to rattle the Cardinals’ vaunted guards. Jones and Smith each gave the ball away four times
But Pitino’s press was also effective, forcing Fairfield into 19 turnovers.
Neither team shot well. Louisville, which came in making almost 50 percent of its attempts from the field, hit just 38 percent and the Cardinals were just 2 of 14 from 3-point range.
Fairfield fared just as poorly, hitting on just 34 percent, while going 5 of 15 from behind the arc.
The Stags led 9-4 early. A jumper by Harrell tied the game at 11 and started the run that put the Cardinals in control. Hancock’s layup off a Fairfield miss gave Louisville a 37-23 halftime lead.
Another shot by Harrell gave Louisville its first 20-point lead at 49-28, with 12 minutes left. Fairfield cut the deficit back to 51-36, but could not get closer than 14.
It was 59-40 when Harrell picked up his fourth foul and 62-43 when Smith picked up his fourth. But by then, the game had been decided.
“Right now I’m just locked in on getting my rebounds up,” Harrell said. “At halftime I only had two rebounds and I felt, with my mindset, I’m a double digit rebounder every night. I went back out after halftime and said that’s got to be changed.”
Jones took charge down the stretch. He had all but two of his points in the second half.
Fairfield has lost four in a row. The Stags were picked to finish sixth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason coaches’ poll.
“We grew up a bit today, and we got some confidence,” said Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson. “For Fairfield University, to be on this national stage, and let people know that we’ve got some good young kids in our program, it’s a thrill.”
This was the first meeting between the two programs.
Louisville is now 156-37 in non-conference games under Pitino.
Fairfield fell to 0-50 all-time against ranked opponents, dating back to the 1949-50 season.