The conditions were in place for Louisville to struggle.
The No. 7 Cardinals missed their first 13 3-pointers and All-America forward Montrezl Harrell was in foul trouble.
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Instead, the defense sparked a comfortable 85-67 win against Marshall on Friday night as Louisville forced 21 turnovers, including 13 steals, in overcoming a poor shooting night.
"I thought we fell into a jump-shooting contest with them that I figure they won," said Chris Jones, who led Louisville with 18 points. "But I’m glad our offense is built from our defense. As long as we play defense we know we’ll win games."
Backcourt mate Terry Rozier added 17 and forward Wayne Blackshear had 16 points, 12 in the first half, for the Cardinals (3-0).
Harrell sat most of the second half with four fouls. He went to the bench 2 minutes after the break with Louisville up 43-31 and returned with 5:47 left and the Cardinals ahead by 13.
Freshman Chinanu Onuaku and sophomore Mangok Mathiang earned praise from Louisville coach Rick Pitino while filling in for Harrell. Each grabbed 11 rebounds. Onauku added 10 points to earn his second straight double-double.
"I thought Mangok and Nanu were both terrific," Pitino said. "They understood the game plan very well, and that’s why we didn’t lose the lead. That’s why we enhanced the lead. . They knew that rebounding was crucial and they did their job."
Senior forward Shawn Smith led the Thundering Herd (3-1) with 16 points.
Louisville shot 27 of 70 (39 percent). The Cardinals started only 7 for 23 and missed all 10 of their 3s in the first half. They finished 3 of 22 from behind the 3-point line.
It was the first time the Cardinals failed to make a 3 in a half since their round of eight win against Duke en route to the 2013 national title.
"We kept them at percentages where we could win the game if we operated like we should," Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said.
Marshall finished 23 of 63 from the field (37 percent) but was confident early, and with reason. The Thundering Herd made seven of their first nine shots and led 18-15 eight minutes in.
Blackshear paced Louisville in the first half, drawing charges, finishing alley oops and blocking a would-be dunk. His steal and subsequent dunk with 7:51 remaining in the half gave Louisville a 22-20 lead, part of an 11-0 run. The Cardinals never trailed again.
"We did a pretty good job for a while, but we let their pressure get us out of what we were doing," D’Antoni said. "We have to have more discipline."
Louisville led 41-27 at halftime as Marshall shot just 3 for 20 after its good start.
Marshall: Forward Ryan Taylor came into the game averaging 18 points a game. The sophomore from Indianapolis originally committed to Louisville before landing at Marshall. He scored 15 and had 18 rebounds against the Cardinals. … This was D’Antoni’s first loss at his alma mater. The Thundering Herd entered the game with a 20-point average margin of victory in their three wins to start his tenure.
Louisville: Pitino, a Hall of Famer, is now just two wins short of 700 collegiate victories.
Louisville had a season-low seven turnovers and season highs in free throw attempts (44), steals (13) and blocks (6).