It was a moment Louisville coach Chris Mack reckoned would come at some point. His second-ranked Cardinals, who looked like a machine during most of their first four games, were going to run into an opponent that forced them to go to the whip.
But few thought that time would be Wednesday night against 1-4 South Carolina Upstate, which led the Cardinals 43-40 with 14:07 left. Louisville finally figured out it could lose the game and ended the night on a 36-7 burst that gave them a 76-50 victory.
The Cardinals (5-0) will try to get started a bit earlier Sunday night when they finish a five-game homestand against Akron (4-1).
Mack attributed Louisville's struggles Wednesday night to good shooting by the Spartans, who used the 3-point arc to equalize the playing court. South Carolina Upstate canned nine 3-pointers, some of which appeared to be well-guarded.
"Once they hit a few of those, our guys responded the wrong way," Mack said. "It was almost as if we thought they were supposed to miss those shots and that this is supposed to be an easier game. Sometimes you fall prey to human nature.
"Guys were communicating, and guys made some tough shots. And then we let that affect our mentality until we hit the 12-minute mark in the second half to the end of the game. The power of the 3-point shot can keep you in any game."
It can also help you gain separation, as it has for the Cardinals. While some teams have struggled with the deeper 3-point arc, they haven't. They are converting exactly 44 percent from the arc, with top scorers Jordan Nwora and Ryan McMahon combining to make 30 of 53 attempts from deep.
Nwora is averaging 22 points and seven rebounds per game for Louisville, while McMahon is scoring 12.8 points per game, largely because of 18-of-30 shooting from long distance.
Akron enters the game fresh off an 82-60 whipping of Youngstown State on Thursday night, when it connected on 13 of 32 3-point tries while limiting the Penguins to 32.4 percent shooting. The Zips put four players in double figures, led by 19 points each from Tyler Cheese and Loren Cristian Jackson.
Akron opened up a 43-25 lead at halftime, a pleasing development for coach John Groce.
"I thought the first half was as well as we've played this year," he said. "I thought we had good energy, I thought we played the right way, the ball moved and we took good shots. The second half, we were just OK. It's still early, but we've got to find a way to play a complete 40 (minutes)."
Cheese (15.2 points per game), Jackson (15 ppg), Xeyrius Williams (14.4 ppg) and Channel Banks (10.8 ppg) give the Zips four players producing in double figures, even though the team is shooting just 40.1 percent overall from the floor.
Akron has won three straight since a 94-84 loss at West Virginia on Nov. 8.
--Field Level Media