HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP)—Rick Pitino hasn’t seen Louisville play better in three-plus seasons as its coach. For Southern Mississippi, things rarely have been worse.
Francisco Garcia had 25 points to lead five Cardinals in double figures in No. 19 Louisville’s 107-62 rout of the Golden Eagles on Tuesday night, the worst home loss in school history.
Pitino called the opening 20 minutes—in which the Cardinals shot 69 percent and took a 60-27 lead—“the best half since I“ve been at Louisville.”
“You don’t have many no-hitters or perfect games in basketball, but that’s as good as we could play,” Pitino said.
Ellis Myles had 20 points for the Cardinals (13-3, 2-1 Conference USA), who patiently ran their offense to generate easy baskets, then tormented the outmanned Golden Eagles on defense.
“We got the third, fourth, fifth and sixth options (and) if you keep looking to pass, you feed off of that,” Pitino said. “And we played great defense, which got us on the break.”
Louisville led by as many as 48 points, shot 57 percent from the field and was 31-of-33 from the free throw line.
Larry O’Bannon had 16 points, Taquan Dean scored 13 and Brandon Jenkins added 12 for Louisville, which showed no signs of recent injury struggles in its second straight league victory since being upset at Houston.
Garcia is averaging 23.3 points over his last six games, and the Cardinals won five of those by an average of nearly 37 points. He finished four shy of his season high set against Morehead State and tied against Eastern Kentucky.
“We stayed focused. We’ve got to stay focused, whether we’ve got a big lead at home or on the road,” Garcia said. “When you get a big lead, you can’t get laid back or forget about playing defense. We weren’t going to let that happen today.”
Rashaad Carruth had a career-high 25 points for Southern Miss (9-6, 0-3), which has lost four straight.
But never before have the Golden Eagles had a loss this lopsided at home. The 45-point margin surpassed a 41-point home defeat to Louisiana Tech in January 1973.
It was the third-worst defeat in school history, the worst a 52-point loss at Cincinnati in February 2002.
“Our program was extremely exposed tonight, and we will have to get to the bottom of it,” coach Larry Eustachy said. “There is a cloud over this program … an attitude that what happened tonight was OK.”
It was the first meeting between the coaches who have a combined 698 college victories.
“We could have hung in there a little better,” Carruth said.
Michael Ford had 13 points and LSU transfer Mildon Ambres added 10 for Southern Miss, which lost for the first time at home under Eustachy. The Golden Eagles finished with more turnovers (23) than field goals (19).
Southern Miss led 5-0 before the Cardinals used a 22-3 run to take a 14-point lead just over 6 minutes into the game.
Louisville was 9-of-12 from the field during that stretch, held Southern Miss without a basket for nearly 5 1/2 minutes and gradually built a 35-point lead late in the half. The Cardinals shot 69 percent from the field in the half and cruised from there.
“We took maybe two challenged shots the whole game,” Pitino said.