Louisville forward Earl Clark could’ve made the jump to the NBA in the offseason, but elected instead to return to the Cardinals and work on his game. After a slow start, he’s beginning to make the progress he hoped for.
Clark looks to build on one of the best games of his career as the ninth-ranked Cardinals meet Lamar on Monday night in the Marques Maybin Classic at Louisville’s Freedom Hall.
Clark was projected to be a first round pick in last June’s draft after averaging 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots in 35 games - 22 starts - as a sophomore last season. He decided to delay turning pro in favor of a third season with the Cardinals, a move coach Rick Pitino must have appreciated Sunday.
Clark had season highs of 17 points and 14 rebounds and added a career-high eight assists to lead the Cardinals (4-1) to a 91-56 rout of Ohio, their second straight victory following an upset loss to Western Kentucky last Sunday.
“Earl played great from beginning to end,” Louisville guard Edgar Sosa said. “He got other people involved. He got the ball down low to Samardo (Samuels) and when he gets the ball like that, we’re hard to stop.”
The lanky 6-foot-9 power forward, who was 7-for-11 from the field with two blocked shots, said his improved play was at least partially due to a meeting with Pitino.
“Coach P showed me a lot of clips from last year of good games that I had, he showed me how I scored in different ways,” said Clark, who’s averaging 14.7 points and 11.7 rebounds in his last thee games after averaging 12.5 points and 4.0 boards in his first two. “I’m a better player when I play more athletic.”
Pitino appears to have had a similar effect on guard Jerry Smith, who scored 16 points Sunday in his second start following a brief stint in a reserve role because of his slow start this season.
“It’s been kind of frustrating. The hard work in practice really wasn’t showing on the court,” said Smith, a starter for most of the last two seasons. “The way we’ve been practicing and preparing, it’s great to see how the intensity is paying off on the floor.”
Louisville hopes to build on its best game of the season as it meets a Lamar team coming off its second loss in three games following a 5-0 start.
Kenny Dawkins made a pair of free throws to pull Lamar into a 66-all tie with Indiana State before the Cardinals gave up a short jumper with less than one second remaining to fall 68-66 on Sunday.
Lamar was 4-for-22 from 3-point range, and is a combined 8-for-46 (17.4 percent) from behind the arc in its two losses, compared to 36-for-109 (33.0 percent) in its six victories.
Lamar is 2-6 all-time against current Big East schools, including losses in its two previous meetings with Louisville. Louisville beat Lamar 90-68 in 1978 and 85-60 in 1983.