LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Shaky in all phases at the start against Syracuse, No. 18 Louisville used defense to pull together before its offense put things out of reach.
Damion Lee scored 15 points, Trey Lewis added 14 and the Cardinals pulled away in the second half to beat Syracuse 72-58 on Wednesday night.
The Cardinals (20-6, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) snapped a two-game slide, shooting 56 percent in the second half. They overcame a 3-of-14 shooting start to finish at 48 percent overall. Louisville also held the Orange to 38 percent shooting to stop their five-game winning streak and hand them their worst loss this season.
Lee shot just 6 of 14 but made all three 3-pointers in just under three minutes in the second half to key one of several runs that put Louisville comfortably ahead. Lewis was 6 of 11 from the field with a couple from long range, and Chinanu Onuaku added 13 points and 15 rebounds for Louisville.
“It was a lot of fun,” Lee said. “Definitely a game we needed.”
Trevor Cooney scored 19 points for the Orange (18-9, 8-6), Michael Gbinije had 13 points, and Malachi Richardson 10. They trailed by 19 with just under four minutes left.
Louisville outrebounded Syracuse 41-30 and controlled the paint 50-20. Its backups outscored the Orange’s reserves 25-7 to help coach Rick Pitino win a matchup against fellow Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim.
“I thought that they got some pretty good shots and we got some good shots,” Boeheim said. “We just didn’t get a good rhythm.”
The Cardinals also recorded their 14th straight 20-win season, a needed boost after consecutive road losses at Duke and Notre Dame last week dropped them back in the ACC. They’re 2-2 since the school announced a self-imposed postseason ban on Feb. 5 after its investigation into an escort’s book allegations that a former staffer paid her and other dancers to strip and have sex with recruits and players revealed that violations did occur.
More important to Louisville was getting back on track toward salvaging what’s left of their shortened season.
“We had a long meeting the other day,” Pitino said, “and I just told them, we’re all emotionally drained (and) the object right now is not to be bitter, but to get better. Bitterness gets you nothing. Getting better is what it’s all about.”
The Cardinals initially struggled against Syracuse’s trademark zone defense and trailed 18-6 before Syracuse went cold. Louisville closed the half 9 of 18 from the field and rallied with a 22-9 run to lead 28-27 at the break.
Louisville started the second half 12 of 18 from the field with Lee’s long-range shooting opening things up during a 28-14 run over 9:13 that gave the Cardinals a 60-46 lead that was never threatened.
Louisville’s second half included an assortment of pretty plays, most of which were one-handed dunks that brought the crowd to its feet. Sophomore Jaylen Johnson had a couple along with freshman guard Donovan Mitchell, who added to his growing collection of highlights with a mean slam off Lee’s lob from just inside the arc. Lewis meanwhile added a reverse layup on a behind-the-back pass near the baseline from Onuaku.
“That was kind of instinct,” said Onuaku, whose four assists tied Lee and Mitchell for the team lead. “I saw Trey and there was a man in front of me. I knew I couldn’t throw a bounce pass and he was right on the baseline. I knew where he was, so I just threw it behind my back.”
Syracuse: The Orange’s largest previous margin of defeat was a 13-point loss at Miami on Jan. 2.
Louisville: The Cardinals were just 1 of 2 from the free throw line, their fewest made and attempted since making a similar number at Marquette on March 2, 2010.
Syracuse: Hosts Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Louisville: Hosts No. 20 Duke on Saturday.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.