Louisville opened its inaugural run through ACC play with a smooth offensive game and a much-needed effort from a key player.
Chris Jones and the fifth-ranked Cardinals seem likely to keep it going in their first ACC home game Wednesday night against struggling Clemson.
Louisville (13-1, 1-0) opened the conference slate with Sunday’s 85-76 win at Wake Forest, and the most encouraging part might have been the play of Jones. The senior guard scored 22 points after struggling for over two weeks.
Jones played nine minutes off the bench in a 63-48 win over Long Beach State on Dec. 30 and didn’t score, giving him an average of 8.4 points while shooting 25.6 percent with seven assists and nine turnovers during a five-game stretch. Against the Demon Deacons, he was a season-best 7 of 13 with a career-high 10 assists and two turnovers.
"All Chris Jones has to do to be one of the better point guards in the country is listen," coach Rick Pitino said. "He’s gone from never listening in junior college and high school to listening about 70 percent of the time. All he’s got to do is get it to 100 and we’ve got ourselves a special player."
Montrezl Harrell has had no such consistency issues and also had a double-double with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Top scorer Terry Rozier added 18 points and is averaging 21.3 over the last seven games.
More importantly, the team is showing some offensive consistency with consecutive games of shooting at least 50.0 percent and 40.0 from 3-point range. In its first 12 games, Louisville shot 42.7 percent and 28.6 from long range.
The Cardinals, however, suffered some defensively, allowing Wake Forest to shoot 52.8 percent for easily their highest opponent percentage after coming into the game with a 35.0 mark.
In addition to Louisville entering on a 36-game home winning streak against unranked opponents, Clemson (8-5, 0-1) showed little in its ACC opener against North Carolina.
Saturday’s 74-50 loss featured a season-worst 28.3 percent shooting. Over a 2-2 stretch, the Tigers are connecting on 37.5 percent and averaging 57.3 points.
Jaron Blossomgame, the team leader with 13.6 points per game, scored 13 but was 4 of 11 from the floor. The forward, though, has been more of a boost than a hindrance over the last four games with 17.3 points on 57.5 percent shooting.
Things could certainly get worse with the Tigers’ next three coming on the road with dates against Pittsburgh and No. 3 Virginia following.
"I don’t care who or where or when we play next," coach Brad Brownell said. "We have to play better. We have to be more tough-minded and we have to be tougher physically."
Clemson was outrebounded 49-30 by North Carolina, and while Brownell might be able to point to that as an isolated incident, awful 3-point shooting has been almost constant. The Tigers are shooting 25.2 percent over the last six games, and Louisville has held opponents to 27.9.
Clemson is 1-1 this season against the Top 25 but has three wins in its last 22 tries. It’s also dropped 22 of 23 against the top 5.
Louisville leads the all-time series 3-0.