Louisville escapes Nicholls State 85-72 in Mack’s debut
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Chris Mack would've preferred a smoother start to his Louisville coaching debut and seemed happy only about the outcome.
Little was pretty about the Cardinals' opener, but at least it ended successfully against Nicholls State.
Steven Enoch had 15 points including a pair of critical free throws with 1:57 remaining, Darius Perry added 14 points and the Cardinals thrived at the foul line to hold off the Colonels 85-72 on Thursday night in Mack's first game with the Cardinals.
The Cardinals (1-0) led by 14 with 7:51 remaining but needed free throws to put away the stubborn Colonels (1-1), whose 50 percent 3-point shooting in the second half helped get them within 68-66 with 3:40 remaining. V.J. King (12 points) made a free throw, Perry added a layup and Enoch made two more from the line to make it 73-66.
As foul troubles eliminated several Nicholls players — the Colonels lost five overall — the Cardinals took advantage at the line. King, Christen Cunningham, Dwayne Sutton and Perry combined to make all of the team's final 12 free throws, and Louisville went on to seal a successful if tense opener for Mack, who took over Louisville in March after successful nine-year tenure at Xavier.
Asked how it felt to win, Mack answered, "Not very good to be honest with you. I don't think we played very well. I didn't think we were very tough. We've got tougher games coming.
"I'm happy that we won, certainly not the way we won. We've got to figure it out."
Mack can take heart in his team making free throws when it had to.
It started with Enoch, a Connecticut transfer, who made all nine free throws. Louisville eventually hit 29 of 36 from the line after halftime to finish 42 of 55 overall.
Jordan Nwora added 12 points off the bench while Sutton had nine for the Cardinals, who began a new chapter under Mack after the program was implicated last fall in a federal corruption investigation of college basketball and a 2015 sex scandal.
Louisville shot 19 of 40 and outrebounded Nicholls 39-30.
"We knew we had to close the game out, take care of the ball, not turn the ball over and make free throws," Sutton said.
"That's not how we wanted to play our first game. At the end of the day we came out with a victory. We'll chalk it up and go to film and watch how we can improve for our next opponent."
Nicholls: Elvis Harvey and Ryghe Lyons fouled out three minutes apart midway through the second half to start an exodus that eventually included Daniel Regis, Kevin Johnson and Brandon Moore. The Colonels made just three field goals over the final 3:40 and were left to slow down the Cardinals by fouling them.
"We battled," first-year coach Austin Claunch said. "We knew there was going to be some adversity, obviously. We've been through some funky lineups, but we battled through it and gave ourselves a chance to make it interesting and potentially pull it out."
Louisville: The Cardinals will remain a work in progress under Mack but showed spark at times in their coach's debut. They shot decently most of the night while their defense succeeded in denying Nicholls the inside. But they couldn't solve Nicholls' 3-point shooting and showed there's still work to do with rotations and keeping focus.
Nicholls State visits Washington State on Sunday in the second of four games this month against Power 5 conference schools. The docket includes Baylor (Big 12) and Mississippi (Southeastern).
Louisville: Hosts Southern Tuesday night in the second of a three-game opening home stand.