The No. 12 Cardinals play Thursday night for the first time since the longest game in school history as they host a Red Storm team that will be without a grieving Steve Lavin.
Louisville (19-5, 7-4) fell last Saturday at then-No. 25 Notre Dame, 104-101 in five overtimes - the longest Big East regular-season game in history. It featured numerous heroic shots by the Fighting Irish after the Cardinals led by eight with 51 seconds left in regulation.
“I can’t fault our defense,” coach Rick Pitino said. “We were on them. … I’ve never seen shots like that and I’ve been coaching a long, long time.”
Louisville had never lost in 104 previous games when scoring at least 100.
Pitino’s club will be favored to improve to 7-0 at home in the series with St. John’s (15-9, 7-5), with Lavin missing a second straight game. Lavin’s 82-year-old father, Cap, died overnight Saturday and assistant Rico Hines was in charge for Sunday’s 77-58 loss at then-No. 8 Syracuse.
Hines, who played for Lavin at UCLA, will guide the team again Thursday.
“You have to go with your basketball instincts and at the same time you have to have poise,” Hines said. “It’s all the same things that I’ve been taught from my mentors; Don Nelson, Keith Smart and, obviously, coach Lavin.”
Louisville has won six of the past seven meetings after taking the only one last season, 73-58 at Madison Square Garden behind New York native Russ Smith’s 17 points, seven assists and four steals.
Smith had 21 points and a career-high 10 rebounds against the Fighting Irish, but the Cardinals’ top scorer shot 23.3 percent in two games last week. He’s averaging 18.3 points to rank second in the Big East.
Smith is one spot ahead of St. John’s guard D’Angelo Harrison, who has the same average but has scored one fewer point.
Harrison scored 24 in last season’s matchup but is also slumping, averaging 8.7 points on 20.6 percent shooting in his last three games - a 1-2 stretch for St. John’s after a five-game win streak.
The Red Storm have other things on their minds with Lavin away from the team as they try to focus on gaining a victory that would boost their NCAA tournament chances.
“It is kind of hard to channel your emotions,” guard Phil Greene said. “We are going to be ready since we just lost the game and we want to win one especially on the road against Louisville.”
The Cardinals feature a muscular frontcourt of Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, who had a career-high 30 points and 15 rebounds last Saturday. Behanan’s point total in a career-high 56 minutes surpassed his output over his three previous games.
“The season is starting to come to an end,” Behanan said. “I just block everything out, on the outside, and just get the job done.”
St. John’s features the nation’s leader among active players in blocks in reserve Chris Obekpa, averaging 4.3.