No. 14 Louisville beats Rutgers 83-76
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Russ Smith’s stats looked pretty good, and the star guard and Louisville coach Rick Pitino felt the same about the way he played.
He could have been much better.
Smith scored 22 points and No. 14 Louisville made 41 free throws in an 83-76 win over Rutgers in a foul-plagued game on Saturday.
Smith had 15 of his team’s final 23 points, making 11 free throws down the stretch as the Cardinals (13-2, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) used their full-court pressure to force Rutgers (7-8, 1-1) to commit a season-high 19 turnovers.
“Russ has had a great year, one of the best years I’ve seen any player of mine have,” Pitino said. “Tonight he had a very bad night because he shot us out in the beginning which is not like him because he’s been very, very unselfish. Tonight he had one assist and five turnovers because of it.”
Smith was 4 for 11 from the field as Louisville beat Rutgers for the 12th time in 13 games.
“I’m not gonna play a perfect season but as long as I come through when the team needs me to come through, that’s all that matters,” Smith said.
Smith had a good reason for his off night. He was playing in front of family and friends from New York.
“It was my fault. I forced the issue early on,” Smith said. “I should have been moving the ball. I did a bad job at that, a terrible job. I should have let the game come to me early, I tried to start off bombing away. Just next time just take it a little bit easier, let the game come to me. That’s all on me.”
Louisville escaped the poor performance because of its press and unbelievable free-throw shooting. Normally a 65 percent team from the line, it made 41 of 46 foul shots. The 41 made free throws set a school record for any conference game, breaking the old mark of 39 against Virginia Tech in 1986.
“We don’t usually shoot that well,” Pitino said with a smile. “We really don’t. But outside of that, Russ didn’t play a very good game tonight but he did make free throws and get fouled.”
Luke Hancock added 15 points for the Cardinals, Terry Rozier had a career-high 14 and Wayne Blackshear 13.
Myles Mack had 19 points for the Scarlet Knights, who had won three in a row. Craig Brown added a career-high 17 points and Kadeem Jack had 12.
The game featured 62 personal fouls and lasted more than 2½ hours.
“I don’t know how they got to the free-throw line that much,” Mack said. “I don’t think they should have.”
Louisville took control with a 31-11 spurt that bridged the end of the first half and the start of the second. The run was fueled by its full-court press that limited Rutgers to three baskets in a span of roughly 10½ minutes.
It turned a 29-26 deficit into a 57-40 lead. The closest the Scarlet Knights got the rest of the way was six points at 77-71 with 34.8 seconds to go.
“I think we did a very good job of coming back in the game with our press,” Pitino said. “In the beginning we got behind because we took some bad shots. They got some easy buckets because we fell behind. We started taking good shots and we got a lot of steals because of it.”
Louisville had the decisive run, but Pitino had to endure a frustrating final 15 minutes while his team made dumb mistakes, took bad shots and turned the ball over, with the final court being a season-high 17.
Four players — two from each team — fouled out and seven more finished with four fouls.
Louisville, which was finishing a four-game road trip that started on Dec. 21, struggled at the start, falling behind by margins of 7-0 and 12-4.
It wasn’t until the Cardinals started to employ their press that they started getting easy baskets. Rutgers turned the ball over a dozen times in the first half, leading to 16 points for Louisville and enough for a 39-33 edge despite shooting roughly 42 percent from the field.
Mack was the only consistent player in the first half, hitting 5 of 8 from the field for 13 points. Eight Cardinals scored in the opening 20 minutes.