NEWARK -- With its leading scorer struggling with his shot and its top rebounder sidelined with an ankle injury, Louisville relied on its trademark pressure defense to turn back Seton Hall, 73-58, Wednesday night at The Prudential Center.
The Cardinals (14-1, 2-0), ranked third in the AP Top 25 poll, were without talented forward Chane Behanan, who turned his ankle in practice earlier in the week, and received just 11 points (2-for-11 from the field) from guard Russ Smith, who averaged 20 points a game.
However, coach Rick Pitino's squad claimed its ninth straight win by compensating with stifling defense. Ahead by just two points at the half, 36-34, the Cardinals held Seton Hall to just 28.6 percent shooting from the field in the second half.
They forced the Pirates into 16 turnovers on the night, scoring 21 points off the errors.
"Tonight in the second half we played excellent defense," Pitino said. "We really got after it. When you guard the 3-point line or the low post, the defense has to put pressure on the basketball and we didn't have that in the first half.
"Pressure on the basketball is the barometer for how you play defense. Last year we were probably the lowest field-goal offensive basketball team to go to a Final Four in 50 years. We've gotten better on offense, but our defense wasn't good until the second half tonight" With the score tied at 42-42 with 12:53 to play, Louisville, led by center Gorgui Dieng's 16 points and 14 rebounds, pulled away with a 12-2 run to make it 54-44 with 7:29 remaining. Luke Hancock's two 3-pointers in the sequence were the difference for the Cardinals.
Seton Hall (12-4, 1-2 Big East) has never beaten a team ranked in the top three of the Associated Press poll, going 0-30 all-time.
Brandon Mobley led the Pirates with 18 points and Eugene Teague added 14 points and 10 rebounds. Seton Hall's leading scorer, Fuquan Edwin, was limited to just 13 points, 12 coming in the second half.
"They did a really good job on him (Edwin)," said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, on the defensive effort from Louisville's Peyton Siva and Kevin Ware. "No one is going to let him run free.
"We aren't creating enough turnovers and getting opportunities to get him easy shots."
The Pirates were able to get to the line, despite an overwhelming Louisville height advantage. But they converted just 20 of 31 shots from the stripe compared to 23 of 27 for Louisville.
Freshman forward Montrezi Harrell started in place of Behanan and matched his season high of 14 points in 23 minutes.
Seton Hall was playing with just seven healthy scholarship players due to injuries.
Junior forward Brian Oliver was out with an ankle sprain, junior center Aaron Geramipoor has been out for a month with a stress fracture, and junior forward Patrik Auda is redshirting after breaking his foot in November.
The Pirates bench was outscored 17-2.
With just two fully healthy big men available, Teague and Kevin Johnson, the Pirates were forced to rely on their perimeter game to make the game close. Normally a decent 3-point shooting club, they finished just four of 16 from long range.
Johnson spelled Teague, who saw double and triple teams on just about every trip, for only seven minutes. Still, Teague, a transfer from Southern Illinois, was able to stay his ground against the 6-11 Dieng.
"He (Eugene) did a great job," said Willard. "He turned it over too many times, but I thought he battled.
"He's starting to realize in this league you aren't going to be able to stand there and bang somebody."
The Pirates, who host Providence on Sunday, never led in the second half and maintained their last lead at 17-16 with 9:23 left in the first stanza.
"I'm proud of my guys," said Willard, a former assistant at Louisville. "They battled. That's a good basketball team, No. 3 in the country and we battled for about 30 minutes."
NOTES: Louisville is the only Division I school currently with its football and men's and women's basketball teams in the AP's Top 25 poll. The men's team is ranked third, the women are 11th and the football team is 22nd. ... Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard was an assistant at Louisville for six years (2001-2007). ... Louisville's Russ Smith ranks 10th in the country in steals (2.64 a game) and 18th in scoring (20.0). ... Seton Hall's roster includes four players from the Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands -- Tom Maayan, Patrik Auda, Aaron Geramipoor and Haralds Karlis.