Louisville led by 13 points with 9:55 remaining in the 1st half. The Cards were shooting, they were rebounding, they were defending. From that point, the Cards gradually began to lose the battle on the glass, had a long scoring drought and really struggled to finish out the half when Anas Mahmoud missed a layup and Denzel Valentine hit a circus shot at the buzzer to draw within 3. The momentum shifted into the Spartans’ favor to finish the 1st half and continued in the 2nd.
Michigan State played like the veteran team that had been down before. Methodically Izzo’s squad played defense, rebounded, got 2nd chance points……and MSU hit 3s. Specifically Bryn Forbes who torched the Cards from deep this past March continued to burn Louisville from beyond the arc. This time Forbes was 5-9 from deep and Trey Lewis’ former college teammate at Cleveland State will be in the nightmares of Louisville fans for quite some time.
But the player who hurt UofL the most was Denzel Valentine. 25 points was a huge effort and his 8-8 Free Throws doomed a late rally, but his PASSING was simply outstanding. Damion Lee had a top night as well with 23 points and 5 steals however he expended a huge amount of energy on the defensive end checking Valentine. The game marked the 1st time Louisville really missed the length of Deng Adel as Adel could have provided the right defensive match-up for the Cards on Valentine, especially late when freshman Donovan Mitchell made an ill-advised foul at mid-court.
Ultimately Louisville lost a game in which it led for over three quarters of the game because of a long scoring drought, getting beat on the glass, missing chip shots, blowing fast breaks, hurrying shots, Chinanu Onuaku suffering foul trouble, and lacking the poise that Michigan State showed when they took solid punches from the Cards.
Did UofL prove that it belonged in Top 25? Sure. Losing by 4 to Michigan State in the Breslin Center is nothing to be ashamed of. But the Cards also didn’t prove to itself that it could beat a Top 5 team. UofL didn’t sustain. We already knew about the POTENTIAL of this group and maybe the only thing that we learned is that this group still has to travel a distance in different stages of development to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Can the Cards get there? Sure. Rick Pitino loves his team’s attitude. How will they respond to a loss? How will they respond to losing a game in which they led for 31:28 of 40 minutes? How will they respond to missing an opportunity to knock off a Top 5 team on the road?
Will Louisville develop the killer instinct necessary to finish around the rim? To defend the 3? To Crash the Boards against a tough rebounding team? To Finish a Game?
We’ll see. But it’s one thing to talk about what this team CAN do and it’s another thing to talk about what it HAS DONE. Wednesday was a missed opportunity to make a serious statement on the road. Louisville will have another chance to make a similar statement in about 24 days.