Smith shines as Louisville surges past Morehead State 73-49
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Jerry Smith let the shot go and held his right hand up in the air for an extra second, the Louisville guard’s signature move when he’s feeling it.
It’s a pose that became awfully familiar during Louisville’s 73-49 victory over Morehead State on Wednesday night.
Smith scored a season-high 17 points, all but two on 3-pointers, as the Cardinals (8-3) used some hot shooting and a suffocating press to race by the Eagles.
“I had a better feeling tonight, I don’t know why,” Smith said. “Sometimes it goes like that and sometimes it doesn’t. It was going tonight.”
The Cardinals needed it to go after a lethargic first half that saw them up by just three points over the Eagles (4-7). Smith hit three 3-pointers during a 21-4 run that opened the second half, finally regaining the touch that made him one of the best freshman 3-point shooters in the country last year.
Smith attributed his touch on an evening shootaround on Christmas night, when he hoisted 200 shots all by himself in the school’s practice gym.
“I don’t think many people spent Christmas like that,” he said. “Just a typical Louisville day.”
Terrence Williams added 17 points and seven assists and Derrick Caracter had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Cardinals, who held the Eagles to 35 percent shooting in the second half and forced 22 turnovers.
“I thought our kids played extremely hard for about 20 minutes,” Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall said. “They took us out of things in the second half. … When they got easy baskets from their press, they got in flow a little bit.”
Morehead State, located about 140 miles east of Louisville, made the Cardinals work for their third straight victory. Kenneth Faried led the Eagles (4-7) with 11 points, and held his own for the most part against the bigger, stronger Caracter.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has criticized his team for its lack of intensity on defense, saying his players shouldn’t let their shooting determine the effort on the other end of the court.
But it wasn’t until the Cardinals got going from behind the arc that Louisville’s press began to wear the Eagles down.
Andre McGee started the second half with a 3-pointer from the corner, and Smith sandwiched 3-pointers around a hook by Caracter to give the Cardinals a 41-30 lead. Smith hit another 3-pointer on Louisville’s next trip and capped the run with an alley-oop lay-up on a pass from Edgar Sosa that put the Cardinals up 51-31.
“We tried to step up our defensive pressure and when we did that, we got steals, got running and got the crowd into it,” McGee said.
Still, the Cardinals were hardly crisp. Louisville turned it over 15 times— many simple mental miscues rather than the result of any defensive pressure— and managed just a 32-26 rebounding edge despite a massive size advantage over the Eagles, who play in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“I’m pleased with our progress, but I’m not pleased with the fundamentals,” Pitino said. “We’re doing things you don’t see. Guys are not doing the little fundamental things. When you don’t do that, it becomes gigantic.”
Former heavyweight champion and Louisville native Muhammad Ali received a two-minute standing ovation when he was introduced during a timeout in the first half.
“He is my all-time favorite athlete,” Williams said. “Everyone always brought their best against him, and everyone always brings their best against us.”
For a while, it looked like Morehead’s best might be good enough to shock the Cardinals.
The Eagles hung around in the first half despite having trouble with Louisville’s press. Faried, who didn’t turn 18 until after the season began, gave Morehead a spark off the bench, scoring eight points on a couple of athletic dunks, a nifty jumper and a layup on an inbounds play when he quietly cut behind Caracter to the rim.
Louisville, meanwhile, hardly played like a team trying to move on after a slow start to the season. The Cardinals shot poorly and struggled to hold onto the ball. Williams scored the team’s first nine points, but also committed an embarrassing turnover after collecting a steal at halfcourt. Williams checked behind him and raced to the rim as the crowd rose to its feet. The ball never got there, slipping out of Williams’ right hand as he tried to cradle it.
Williams made amends after halftime, dunking on consecutive possessions during Louisville’s early second-half run.