Without its shot-blocking center, Louisville got big efforts from its backcourt and a seldom-used backup to escape a Saturday scare from Illinois State.
Guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva traded turns taking over in the second half of the No. 5 Cardinals’ 69-66 comeback win. Stephan Van Treese sparked Louisville in the middle, playing 34 minutes off the bench in place of Gorgui Dieng, who is out with a broken left wrist.
Smith had 14 of his 24 points in the second half while Siva 15 of his 20 after the break to help the Cardinals overcame an eight-point halftime deficit.
”We were eventually going to make a run,” Smith said. ”We just picked up our energy and effort. They are a great team.”
Down three with a chance to tie, Illinois State’s Tyler Brown airballed a 3-pointer with eight seconds left that was saved by Bryant Allen to Jackie Carmichael. Carmichael found Brown for another chance to force OT, drawing considerable contact from Louisville’s Chane Behanan as the buzzer sounded. Louisville (6-1) claimed the win with the shot awry and no foul called.
Up 67-66 with 43 seconds left, Behanan missed two free throws but made amends on the next defensive possession, pinning a Carmichael shot on the glass and grabbing the rebound. That set up Siva for two free throws for the game’s final margin.
Illinois State (5-2) led 61-60 with 4:25 to play after being up nearly the entire first half. Brown led all scorers with 25 points. Carmichael added 20 and nine rebounds.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he didn’t think Behanan fouled on the game’s final shot, saying Brown leaned into contact.
Brown called it a questionable decision but said the Redbirds, who shot 52 percent from the floor, had other chances for a signature win.
”We shouldn’t have been in the situation where it came down to a last call like that,” the senior guard from Owensboro, Ky., said. It was Brown’s second straight big performance after scoring a career-high 36 in the Redbirds’ 72-69, overtime loss to Northwestern on Nov. 24.
Playing its second game without Dieng, Louisville started flat and trailed by 13 more than eight minutes in before its backcourt and defense rallied.
”They outplayed us,” Pitino said. ”We played really hard, (but) they had answers to everything that we put at them.”
Van Treese, who was averaging just under 11 minutes a game before Saturday, provided much-needed energy to go with his eight rebounds and six points.
”Stephan’s a warrior,” Pitino said.
Louisville trailed for all but the first 39 seconds of the first half, enduring a scoring drought of more than seven minutes after Behanan’s opening basket, and went into the break down 33-25. Brown and Carmichael combined for 27 in the first half, outscoring Louisville in the opening 20 minutes.
The Cardinals took just their second lead at 37-35 with 16:37 left since scoring the game’s first basket but Illinois State continued to battle in the second half.
In the locker room at half, Pitino told his players to expect a close game, even if they rallied.
”Even if we take the lead, this is going down to the wire,” he said. ”We knew it would.”
Siva — the Big East preseason Player of the Year — went to the bench with his fourth foul with 13:09 to play. Smith then carried the Louisville offense with his backcourt partner out, driving to the basket and drawing fouls. He hit six of eight free throws in a three-minute stretch, the last cutting the Illinois State lead to 55-51 with 10:03 to play.
Siva returned with 9:07 left, Illinois State up 57-51. Smith’s steal from Johnny Hill and layup 21 seconds later was Louisville’s first field goal in nearly four minutes. Luke Hancock immediately drew a charge on Hill on the next possession and Siva’s 3-pointer off an inbounds play with 8:33 remaining cut the lead to one.
Behanan, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, hit an elbow jumper at the 6:08 mark to give Louisville its first lead in more than 10 minutes at 60-59. Johnny Wilkins’ answered with 4:25 left for the Redbirds’ last lead at 61-60 before Siva hit his final three of the game from the right elbow put Louisville up for good nine seconds later.
”Siva got really hot there and made some shots and that hurt us,” first-year Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. ”I am very proud of my team but very disappointed in how it ended. We don’t come for moral victories.”