This win was an Earl Clark production.
The University of Louisville basketball team beat Mississippi last night 77-68 at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, but only one guy was money.
Clark scored 17 points in the first eight minutes. He staked the Cards to an 18-point first-half lead, and even though he didn’t get a field-goal attempt and scored only one more point the rest of the half as the Rebels came back, he still kept rebounding and blocking shots.
If Rebels coach Andy Kennedy thought that cab driver he allegedly assaulted the night before the game was a pain, Clark took him on the nightmare ride of a lifetime.
Mississippi has been known affectionately as “Ole Miss” for decades. For much of last night’s game, Clark’s teammates looked as if they were bucking for a nickname of their own.
Freshman Samuardo Samuels was having one of those nights. Nothing went in, even from point-blank range. Terrence Williams missed the kind of highlight-reel dunk he’s known for making. And the guards en masse were throwing up ill-advised and off-the-mark missles of all kinds.
Yes, the Cardinals won, but this must be said about them.
They don’t play like a team of upperclassmen.
The potential they showed the opening minutes last night — blowing out to a 32-14 lead with marvelous defensive pressure, rebounding and offensive execution — is unmistakable.
But for the rest of it, and as yet for most of this season, they don’t look very often like the team you’d expect — a team that most of the time has four guys on the court who played to the brink of a Big East Conference regular-season championship last season.
After eight minutes of the most impressive basketball they’ve played all season, the Cards slid into some of their sloppiest late in the half.
It was as if the Cardinal guards, entrusted with an 18-point lead, saw the late minutes of the half as their own, personal garbage time. Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa committed back-to-back turnovers for Ole Miss transition baskets to keep the lead from pushing to 20 or beyond.
Then Preston Knowles took a pair of uncharacteristically ill-advised perimeter jumpers, and Ole Miss had the momentum. The Rebels trailed by only four at the half.
At many mistakes, Pitino would slap the scorer’s table beside him with an open hand. It’s a wonder he didn’t break it.
Give Samuels credit for hanging in. If he makes shots the way he usually does, this one wouldn’t have been close. That shouldn’t be forgotten.
And give the Cards credit for toughness and for closing things out the right way.
But even at the one-minute mark, up nine, Sosa drove underneath with little idea of what he was going to do and was stripped.
With career-highs of 25 points and 16 rebounds, Clark was brilliant.
And on a night when no one else was, it was enough.
But it won’t be enough for much longer.