Pitino’s warning comes true: Louisville’s offense goes cold
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — After a couple of close victories, Louisville coach Rick Pitino warned his team that the offense would go cold and the defense would have to win a game.
The No. 16 Cardinals (13-3, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) missed their first 15 3-pointers and couldn’t slow down Clemson enough in a 66-62 loss to the Tigers on Sunday.
“They played a physical, well-played basketball game,” Pitino said. “They took us out of a lot of things we do well.”
Clemson (10-6, 3-1) used its defense and got a little help from foul trouble to beat the Cardinals.
Louisville’s leading scorer, Damion Lee, had six points on 2-of-12 shooting, well below his average of 17 points, which ranks fourth in the ACC. Trey Lewis scored 10 points but missed 16 of his 19 shots. Chinanu Onuaku, the Cardinals’ best inside player, led his team with 14 points but was out much of the second half with foul trouble.
“I knew this type of game was going to happen sooner or later. I’ve been trying to warn our guys about it,” said Pitino, whose team beat Wake Forest by eight and North Carolina State by five. “You’ve got to have tour defense every night and we haven’t. We got burned because of it.”
Jaron Blossomgame scored 17 points and Avry Holmes added 16 as the Tigers — picked to finish 12th in the league this season — snapped a 10-game losing streak against ranked ACC opponents.
“The longer the game went, the more our guys believed,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.
Clemson led for the entire second half but had to hang on late. The Tigers were up by 11 with 3:34 to go before Lewis hit Louisville’s first 3 of the game.
The Cardinals kept whittling the deficit down, and with Clemson up 64-58, Sidy Djitte fouled Louisville’s Jaylen Johnson on a dunk. Johnson missed the free throw, but Quniton Snider got the rebound and the Cardinals made two more free throws to trail 64-62 with 5.5 seconds to go.
Holmes was fouled and sank both foul shots to seal the win.
Louisville: The Cardinals turned the ball over 17 times. ... Louisville shot 35 percent, while holding Clemson to 33 percent shooting.
Clemson: The Tigers’ last win over a ranked team came in a 68-65 victory over No. 18 Arkansas on Dec. 7, 2014. ... Brownell won his 100th game with the Tigers. The only other Clemson coaches to win 100 games at the school are Cliff Ellis (177), Bill Foster (156), Oliver Purnell (138) and Joe Davis (101).
It is quite a turnaround for a Clemson team that lost by 23 to Georgia and went 0-3 against Southeastern Conference teams in December.
“We’re playing much better. I don’t know if I know all of the reasons why,” Brownell said.
Brownell did say his players are more confident and are trusting that ball movement can lead to good shots instead of taking the first thing they see. Holmes said a players-only meeting after the Georgia loss helped, too.
FREE THROW DISPARITY
Clemson went 32 of 44 from the foul line, while Louisville was 11 of 16. Much of the disparity happened late, as the Cardinals began fouling Clemson with three minutes to go. Pitino couldn’t help making a dig both at the referees and the sparse crowd at the Bon Secours Wellness Center in Greenville, where Clemson is playing while its on-campus arena is renovated.
“I thought they fouled us a few of times but we didn’t get it. I guess this raucous crowd that was here,” Pitino said, his voice trailing off.
Louisville hosts No. 24 Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Clemson hosts No. 14 Duke on Wednesday