Louisville basketball locks down on defense, blasts Mississippi State in Bahamas
NASSAU, The Bahamas - Less than a week ago, acting Louisville men’s basketball coach Mike Pegues lamented that his team hadn’t embraced its defensive identity.
Late Thursday night at the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship, the Cardinals didn’t just embrace defense. They used it to bearhug the air out of Mississippi State. In its most complete performance of the early season on defense, Louisville beat Mississippi State 72-58, advancing to the tournament title game.
It was a stark contrast from the Cardinals' 73-67 win against Detroit Mercy last Saturday, a game in which Pegues "didn't appreciate" how his team defended or rebounded. At a 7 a.m. Monday film session, the coach let his players hear about it.
"I told them going forward if that was gonna be the standard, then we were gonna have a tough time," Pegues said via Zoom after Thursday's game. "I challenged them in practice on Monday, practice on Tuesday, our staff challenged them, and on Wednesday here in the Bahamas, I thought we had our best practice of the year, and led into us playing really well tonight. That's how we got to defend and rebound every night."
The Cardinals (4-1) swarmed the Bulldogs, stormed the backboards. The Bulldogs entered the Bahamas Championship having won their four games by an average of 24 points.
Iverson Molinar had a team-high 17 points for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs (4-1) take on Richmond (3-3) in Saturday's consolation round at 11:30 a.m.
Louisville locks down on defense
Last weekend, Pegues laid out Louisville’s blueprint for stifling success. The Cards want to guard the ball hard, he said, keep it out of the paint, contest shooters when they catch the ball and take away rhythm 3-pointers. On Thursday – especially in the first half – U of L did all the above.
Mississippi State shot 33% from the floor and 1 of 15 from 3-point range – and it needed a second-half boost to get to those numbers.
Mississippi State shot 7 for 28 in the first half, missing all five of its 3-point attempts. And Louisville – which has struggled to rebound for much of the season – battered the Bulldogs on the backboard. The Cards had a 47-38 rebounding edge, including a 15-10 edge in offensive rebounds.
Pegues called his team's rebounding performance "phenomenal," and Bulldogs coach Ben Howland lauded the way the smaller Cardinals controlled the glass.
"I thought they had great desire and toughness," Howland said. "I thought they were just super physical. I thought they really, really executed everything they did offensively, but they were attacking that glass with multiple guys. Give them credit."
Louisville's rebounding was the punctuation on a strong defensive performance. At one point in the first half, Mississippi State went 6:34 between scores. In the second half, Louisville led by as many as 28 points.
"It made it really hard for us to handle their pressure and their physicality," said Howland. "We've got to learn from this, be more physical and be tougher. We were out boarded and were 1-of-15 from three."
Samuell Williamson sets scoring tone for Louisville
While Louisville’s performance was mostly about stacking stops, it helped that the Bulldogs couldn’t slow Samuell Williamson. He finished with 15 points, making 7 of 12 shots.
In part, Williamson credited one of the best shootarounds of his college career. He had a sense good things were on the way.
"I did feel good coming into the game," he said.
Williamson torched the Bulldogs in the first half with mid-range shots and drives.
He keyed a Louisville offense that found some scoring balance against the Bulldogs. Dre Davis scored 12 points in 17 minutes, and Jae’Lyn Withers scored eight of his 11 points in the second half.