Russ Smith needed only 10 minutes to make all the difference Wednesday in No. 11 Louisville’s 84-71 win over No. 18 SMU in a key American Athletic Conference game
Smith wasn’t much of a factor in a tightly played and competitive first half. Perhaps it was because he was feeling the effects of a stomach virus. He didn’t need to be with fellow starters Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones and Luke Hancock keeping the Cardinals in the game on the offensive end. Smith had four points in the first half.
He didn’t score in the second half until 13 minutes, 2 seconds remained in the game, but when his 3-pointer ripped the cords, it started a flurry of points that had to be among the most entertaining 10 minutes by a single player this season.
It is the single biggest reason why SMU lost for the first time in renovated Moody Arena. SMU also was hurt by its star guard, Nic Moore, getting in foul trouble and only playing 19 minutes.
Smith hit three consecutive 3-pointers in a 90-second span to start his run of 22-second half points. Five minutes passed in close game and then Smith hit three more 3-pointers during a 2-minute span. When the last one splashed through the net, Smith had his team up by 10 points and the Mustangs and their sellout crowd no longer playing like or sounding like they believed in a the possibility of a win.
Smith made a layup, a jump shot and dished a beautiful assist to Harrell for a dunk before heading to the bench with more than 2 minutes remaining. He scored all 22 of his second-half points in 10 minutes and finished with a game-high of 26.
The Cardinals got only three points off the bench but didn’t need more production from the reserves thanks to Smith, 21 points from Jones and 19 from Harrell.
The victory keeps Louisville in position to win the inaugural regular season championship in the new league if it can finish the season by beating No. 19 Connecticut on Saturday.
Smith has had these kinds of offensive outbursts in the past, but Wednesday’s performance in the final week of the regular season is a fresh reminder that the defending national champs are going to be tough to knock out this month in both the conference and NCAA tournaments.
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