LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Louisville’s toughest task against East Carolina was staying interested.
Reserve guard Brandon Jenkins scored a career-high 14 points and backup forward Otis George had 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead the 14th-ranked Cardinals to a 92-41 win over the error-plagued Pirates on Wednesday night.
The game was a mismatch from the start, with Louisville sinking perimeter shots and suffocating the Pirates with full-court pressure.
As the lead soared past 30, Louisville coach Rick Pitino was happy his team maintained its level of play.
“It’s a tribute to our guys. No mental or physical letdown at all,” he said.
Taquan Dean scored 13 and Juan Palacios had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Cardinals (15-3, 4-1 Conference USA), who outrebounded the Pirates 60-41.
“We have the ultimate pro in Coach,” Dean said. “He’s not going to let you get complacent.”
Coming off a 69-66 victory at then-No. 18 Cincinnati last Saturday, the Cardinals led 52-15 at halftime and were never challenged in the second half, allowing Pitino to get plenty of minutes for his bench players.
Leading scorer Francisco Garcia scored only nine points in 22 minutes.
Moussa Badiane had 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Pirates (5-12, 0-5), who committed 24 turnovers and shot 26 percent (15-of-58) in losing for the 10th time in 11 games.
Since a 60-58 loss to Kentucky on Dec. 18, Louisville has won seven home games by an average of 34 points.
The Cardinals jumped to a 14-3 lead by sinking shots from the outside and avoiding Badiane, the league’s second-leading shot blocker. Louisville started 5-for-15 from the floor, but three of the baskets were 3-pointers.
The 6-foot-10 Badiane scored three of the Pirates’ first four baskets and his layup with 11:27 left in the half cut Louisville’s lead to 18-9.
Larry O’Bannon then sparked a 10-0 Louisville spurt with a 3-pointer from the corner near the 11-minute mark.
“We really overmatched them—one of those nights when everything went right for us and nothing went right for them,” Pitino said.
The Cardinals came in averaging 9.6 3-pointers per game, fifth in the nation, and had nine by halftime—half of their 18 first-half field goals.
The flustered Pirates averaged 17 turnovers in their first four league games, but had 15 at the break on Wednesday.
“Their defense smothered us,” East Carolina coach Bill Herrion said. “We looked like a deer in headlights.”
The Pirates’ struggles began before they even arrived in Louisville. On Tuesday, the team bus broke down and the Pirates were stranded for an hour on the side of a state highway in North Carolina.
Still, Herrion expected a more competitive performance.
“We have been playing good basketball,” he said. “What’s disappointing is we’ve played with these guys in the past.”
Despite the comfortable edge, Pitino remained feisty. When Ellis Myles picked up a foul with 16:43 left in the game, Pitino slammed a tin of mints onto the scorers’ table, spraying some on the floor.
“He constantly gets on your back,” O’Bannon. “He stays on you, whether the lead is five or 50.”
The Cardinals missed 11 of their first 12 shots after halftime, but the Pirates never mounted a charge.
After the game, Pitino said Myles dislocated his left thumb. Myles is Louisville’s leading rebounder, averaging 9.4 per game, but his status was uncertain for Saturday’s game against Tennessee.
“It’s unfortunate,” Pitino said. “We need him in the game for his low-post presence and toughness.”