No. 20 Louisville 72, St. John’s 48

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Edgar Sosa spent the last three months trying not to celebrate every basket with a shimmy and a shake.

But after pirouetting around a St. John’s defender for a layup late in No. 20 Louisville’s 72-48 win Wednesday night, he just couldn’t help himself.

Sosa, a New York native, excitedly huffed and puffed his way back up the court, yapping at St. John’s guard Eugene Lawrence all the way.

And for once, coach Rick Pitino didn’t mind. The Cardinals have come so far so fast, a little celebration seemed in order.

“I had to show out a little bit,” Sosa said. “We just wanted to come out and play hard and show people that we are on a roll.”

Playing with the kind of energy that’s fueled their improbable return to the Top 25, the Cardinals (20-8, 10-4 Big East) rolled to their fourth straight win and strengthened their grip on third-place in the Big East.

Despite back-to-back upsets over Pittsburgh and Marquette last week, Pitino said he never worried about his young but quickly maturing team losing focus against the Red Storm (15-13, 6-9).

“We’ve been playing great defense, it’s helped us get on this roll,” Pitino said. “All I heard this weekend was `Let down, let down.’ I think when you say `let down,’ you can’t say that in the Big East. Those words shouldn’t come into play.”

Terrence Williams led Louisville with 16 points while adding four rebounds and four assists as the Cardinals moved one step closer to returning to the NCAA tournament.

“Last year, we played in the Little Dance. This year, we want to play in the Big Dance,” Williams said. “I think you see 16 guys growing up in front of your eyes.”

Nearly all of them made an impact against the Red Storm. Derrick Caracter added 12 points and 11 Cardinals scored as Louisville shot 49 percent, the fourth straight game the Cardinals have shot at least 48 percent from the floor.

“Everybody is playing unselfish,” Williams said. “We have good ball movement, and when you have good ball movement, you have good shots.”

Anthony Mason Jr. led the Red Storm with 19 points and Lamont Hamilton added 12 points and nine rebounds, but St. John’s couldn’t overcome 26 percent shooting and 16 turnovers.

The game marked the fifth time this season the Red Storm have failed to score at least 50 points.

“They can wear you out and I think they wore us down,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “We took ill-advised shots and we stopped guarding. Even when we did guard, they did a great job of rebounding the ball.”

Despite playing without forward Juan Palacios—who sat out with back spasms — and having a size disadvantage at nearly every position, the Cardinals were hardly intimidated by the Red Storm.

Louisville held its own on the glass, and dominated play in the lane. The Cardinals outscored the Red Storm in the paint 40-12.

“I knew physically we were going to bring it,” Pitino said.

Louisville’s four freshmen—Caracter, Sosa, Earl Clark and Jerry Smith— whose maturity has coincided with the team’s rise, combined for 31 points.

“It’s a great class they’re growing into,” Pitino said. “Edgar has learned to play the point. Now he’s driving and finding other people. Before, he was just driving to score. Earl has been most-improved and Derrick has an obvious upside.”

Smith, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer at Marquette on Saturday, was given a rousing ovation when he entered the game early in the first half. Though he finished with just two points, the Cardinals made sure no such heroics were necessary.

Louisville took control midway through the first half, using full-court pressure to disrupt the Red Storm’s rhythm. St. John’s had trouble holding onto the ball—committing 10 turnovers in the half—and couldn’t make a shot when it did manage to get into its offense. St. John’s didn’t make a field goal over the final 11 minutes of the half and struggled to find any offense outside of Hamilton.

Louisville closed the half on a 22-5 run highlighted by a series of fast breaks featuring the kind of crisp play that coach Rick Pitino promised at the beginning of the season.

“We played like we were tired,” Roberts said. “I think the thing is because we didn’t get stops and that allowed Louisville to get into their pressure. That really wore us out.”

By the time Brandon Jenkins hit a 3-pointer from the corner at the first-half buzzer, the Cardinals led 36-20.

Mason tried to get the Red Storm back in it, but St. John’s couldn’t get within double digits and the teams emptied the benches late.

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