Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s latest milestone victory featured more drama than he would have liked.
What’s important is that his Cardinals won with the trademark tough defense that helped make Pitino a Hall of Famer.
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Montrezl Harrell had 15 points and 13 rebounds and No. 6 Louisville beat Cleveland State 45-33 on Wednesday night for Pitino’s 700th college victory.
One of five active Hall of Fame coaches and among four in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pitino is 700-245 overall in 30 seasons at Hawaii, Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville. He is 346-117 in 14 seasons with the Cardinals.
"I hope I’m as lucky to (win) 800, because I remember it as if it was yesterday," said the 62-year-old Pitino, who watched a video montage of significant wins after the victory. "I don’t think there’s as much significance personally for me, but the significance I take away is that senior class last year, how many games they won. I was the beneficiary today."
Chris Jones added 11 points, and freshman Chinanu Onuaku blocked seven shots for the Cardinals (5-0), who rejected 11 overall and needed that defense to put away the determined Vikings two nights after beating Savannah State by 61 points.
Cold shooting, missed free throws and no bench points by Louisville allowed Cleveland State (2-3) to stay close throughout and trail just 33-29 with 12 minutes remaining.
But the Vikings made just two of their final 14 shots after that, going scoreless for the final 6:01. The Cardinals pulled away despite their lowest scoring output since a 67-44 loss at Temple on Feb. 2, 1997.
"Obviously, it wasn’t a pretty game," Pitino said, adding that he told his team, "you’re not going to win it with your offense. It’s going to be all about defense. As bad as we were offensively tonight in most phases of the game, we were very good on defense. Very good."
Trey Lewis has 24 points for Cleveland State, which shot 25 percent from the field.
"Not very good when you look at it," Vikings coach Gary Waters said after a long glance at the box score. "When I look at the stats, an ugly game."
Louisville shot slightly better (32 percent), a statistic held down by 3-of-20 shooting from behind the arc. The Cardinals were only 12 of 26 from the free throw line as well, but they outrebounded the Vikings 46-37 and got baskets at crucial times.
Especially the final two, as Jones made a 3-pointer with 5:29 left before Harrell’s layup nearly two minutes later. Terry Rozier added a 3-pointer as well en route to nine points and 11 rebounds.
"There’s going to be a lot of games like this, where your offense is not going," said Rozier, a Cleveland native. "You need something to step up and we’re a defensive team."
"He was joking. He always calls me Egyptian and it’s not something that I consider a bad thing," said Cardinals freshman 7-footer Anas Mahmoud, from Cairo, Egypt, about Pitino’s comments after Monday’s lopsided win over Savannah State. The coach explained that he tried to keep it competitive and joked that he played "four white guys and an Egyptian" in the second half. The comments generated a range of reactions on social media, with some calling it insensitive while others said he was just joking.
Louisville blocked a third of Cleveland State’s first 24 attempts, highlighted by one first-half sequence that illustrated the Vikings’ inside futility. Harrell blocked Aaron Scales’ layup attempt back into the 6-foot-9 center’s hands, and Onuaku followed with another quick rejection of the follow shot. With seven minutes remaining the Vikings had as many shots blocked (11) as they had baskets.
Cleveland State: The Vikings fell to 6-39 against ranked schools.
Louisville: Center Mangok Mathiang did not play after spraining his ankle in practice Tuesday, though he dressed and warmed up with the team.