Louisville worked its way back Saturday, refusing to panic or wilt when the No. 19 Cardinals found themselves trailing scappy DePaul by 17 points in the first half.
”Everybody just stayed positive. We’re going to make our run just as well as they did,” Cardinals guard Chris Smith said.
”Then we just started hitting shots and started getting the flow going and it was just whole totally different game.”
The Cardinals, down 10 at the half, survived DePaul’s raging start and with Russ Smith hitting key back-to-back baskets in overtime, rallied for an 90-82 victory at the noisy Allstate Arena where they were back by a large contingent of red-clad Louisville fans.
”It was a real Big East game today, bumps and bruises, you need ice packs when you get back, I will probably need to get in the cold tub, but today was a hard fought win,” Chris Smith said. ”Today, I felt we earned this one.”
Kyle Kuric scored 25 points, Chris Smith added 20 and Russ Smith 16 to lead the Cardinals (21-6, 9-5 Big East).
Kuric had 17 of his points in the second half and was 9-for-17 from the field. He made five 3-pointers.
”Kyle has to give that type of effort because he didn’t give it in the first half, that effort. In the second half he was all over the place and gave great effort,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after using a smaller lineup in the second half to get his team rolling.
”We started running plays for Chris, Kyle, and Russ. As well as we do that we’re not going to run the pick and roll as well, but we’re going to get some good things out of a couple of sets that we put in and we did.”
DePaul (11-15, 2-12) has now lost 36 consecutive games to ranked opponents. The Blue Demons have lost 11 of their last 12 but this was a game they appeared ready to win, building a big first-half lead.
Brandon Young scored 27 and Cleveland Melvin chipped in 14 points and 10 rebounds for DePaul.
”The bad is that we didn’t get the job done and we took a few defensive possessions off in the meat of the game, including blockout situations on long rebounds that cost us,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said.
”The good, of course, is that we played at a much higher level. … We put ourselves in position to win and played our style of basketball. We were aggressive. We take that style of play and level of play into the next game and down the stretch and we are going to win some games."
He’d also like to see something else:
”I just feel like we’re not getting. … Our guys deserve respect from the officials, too,” he said. ”They really do.”
After losing their big lead, the Blue Demons tied the game at 77 when Charles McKinney hit a basket with 2.2 seconds left in regulation, forcing overtime.
With the game tied at 79 in overtime, Russ Smith hit back-to-back baskets from in-close. Peyton Siva added two free throws and Chris Smith had a layup and three free throws to seal the win. The Cardinals outscored the Blue Demons 13-5 in overtime.
In regulation, Chris Smith grabbed an offensive rebound and scored with 1:15 to go, giving Louisville the lead at 74-72. And after a DePaul turnover, Kuric drove for a score and a four-point lead.
Donnavan Kirk then hit a 3-pointer — his second of the season — to bring the Blue Demons within one with 36 seconds left. After Louisville made one free throw, McKinney hit a shot from in close with 2.2 seconds to go.
DePaul shot 54.8 percent in the first half, swarmed the court with scrappy defense, had separate runs of 16-0 and 16-2 and took a 42-32 halftime lead.
The teams warmed up in the dark for several minutes when the lights at the Allstate Arena, dimmed for a pre-game video, didn’t come back on quickly enough.
After Louisville got the first four points, the Blue Demons reeled off 16 in a row as Jeremiah Kelly capped the frantic outburst with a 3-pointer, making it 16-4.
Louisville, which shot 37.5 percent in opening half, then ran off nine straight points and had the ball trailing by eight in the closing seconds. But DePaul’s Worrel Clahar hit two free throws with less than a second to go after Louisville was whistled for a foul under its own basket, a call that coach Rick Pitino discussed with an official on the floor after the teams had headed to the locker room.
Louisville has now beaten DePaul nine consecutive times.