When the Cardinals last faced the Eagles back in January, Jordan Nwora put on an offensive clinic that was sweeter than a spoonful of molasses in a crock of Boston baked beans.
Sorry about that. I really just wanted to write Boston baked beans at least once in this post. Ignoring my awful sense of humor for just a moment, it’s true to say that Nwora’s 10 rebound and career-high 32 point double-double was a sight to behold. 75% from the field, 5 for 9 from three-point range, and capped by a thunderous dunk to put the nail in the coffin of a late Boston College comeback attempt.
The Cardinals were coming off the high of a 83-62 demolition of Ol’ Roy’s Tar Heels that stunned Carolina fans and ESPN producers alike. But, in hindsight, that Boston College comeback was a piece of foreshadowing. A warning sign that would fly just below the radar for two weeks before smacking Card Nation with a truth bomb to the gut.
On January 16, a 10 point Cardinal halftime lead was pushed to 23 by a Darius Perry three-pointer with just over nine minutes to play. For some reason, a 23 point lead with around nine minutes to play sounds super familiar. Just can’t put my finger on it. In any case, the Louisville lead over Boston College dwindled to five thanks in no small part to an eight minute 1 for 9 stretch from the field for the Cardinals. A critical rebound by Dwayne Sutton off his own missed three pointer with just over a minute to play set up Jordan Nwora for a three point dagger. Just half a minute later, a runaway monster jam gave him his career-high 32nd point and the Cardinals an 80-70 victory. Nearly one month later, Duke would show Chris Mack and his team what would happen if their opponent was able to push that comeback to all the way to its heartbreaking conclusion.
Slippin’ Up In Boston
The Eagles picked up their first two conference wins just after that game in Louisville, including an impressive upset of then 11th-ranked Florida State. But three of their four total conference wins have been against fellow bottom-dwellers Miami, Pitt, and Wake Forest. Boston College now sits at 13-13 overall and 4-10 in ACC play.
While the Eagles weren’t exactly great with him, without Wynston Tabbs they’ve struggled mightily to find a complement for the dynamic Ky Bowman at guard. Bowman has one of the best all-around stat lines in the country, averaging 19.2 PPG, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. Those figures make him the leader in points and assists, while he’s just shy of leading the team in rebounds. Not too shabby for a 6’1″ guard. Doing his best to fill the Tabbs vacuum is Jordan Chatman, whose 21 points against Louisville in January helped nearly complete the Eagles’ comeback. Chatman sat the bench against Clemson with a hand injury but is expected to play Wednesday, while Tabbs is expected to remain sidelined.
Steffon Mitchell and Nik Popovic ably man the interior, and have the size to push you around. Joining them recently due to the widespread injury and lack of depth is freshman Jairus Hamilton and he’s acquitted himself well. Jairus recently earned a starting spot against Clemson, joining his older brother Jared who transferred in from Georgia Southern last fall.
Going 10 for 16 from three-point range in the first half then following that up by going 2 for 17 and shooting 20% overall in the second half would not be among my top recommendations for winning games. Fortunately, Chris Mack agrees with me. Coach talked about the need for his inside men to step up and take pressure off the guards. If you can’t play as a complete team, it’s going to be difficult to play a complete game. This is a must-win for the Cardinals, as playing at Boston College counts as a Quadrant 2 game. All of Louisville’s losses have been in Quadrant 1, except for one. Pitt now occupies dead last in the ACC. Next up is Notre Dame at home which is in Quadrant 3. To keep the résumé polished the Cards absolutely have to pick up these wins. The Cards currently sit at 22nd in the NET rankings and, while unranked, received 90 votes in the AP poll. Finish the season strong (and maybe shock Virginia) and tournament seeding could move firmly back into the 5/6 seed conversation.
Key #1 – Steven Enoch and Malik Williams are simply going to have to dig deep and find the offensive spark. As their scoring averages have slowly dwindled the pressure’s been on Louisville’s perimeter shooters. But another first half where the first Cardinal two-point field goal comes nearly at halftime just won’t cut it anymore. Mitchell, Popovic, and Hamilton are strong, but not strong enough to overpower Enoch and Williams.
Key #2 – We may need to find Luke Hancock-Skywalker in order to bring balance to the force. One of the keys laid out for a win against Virginia was for Louisville’s guard rotation (specifically McMahon, Fore, and Perry) to settle down and get some shots to fall. That certainly happened in the first half, and it seemed as if the Cardinals’ shooting woes had been erased. But famine followed feast, and thus another opportunity was lost. Ryan McMahon said that the defensive schemes of Syracuse and Virginia intimidated them into relying on perimeter shooting. Against Boston College there’s an opportunity to work the ball in low. Hopefully they capitalize on that.
Key #3 – Continue playing as a team. It’s quite clear this group of guys has a close bond, and they play for one another rather than the individual. The only way they’ll get through these late season doldrums is by continuing to stay focused on a strong team dynamic. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and playing a balanced 40 minute game is going to require contributions from all the parts.
Louisville – Sutton, Nwora, Williams, Cunningham, Fore
Boston College – #1 Jairus Hamilton (Fr.-F), #21 Nik Popovic (Jr.-F), #41 Steffon Mitchell (So.-F), #0 Ky Bowman (Jr.-G), #25 Jordan Chatman (Sr.-G)
Time: 9:00 PM EST Weds., 27 Feb
Site: Silvio O. Conte Forum – Chestnut Hill, MA
Video: Fox Sports South / Radio: WHAS 840 AM
Officials: Brian Dorsey, John Gaffney, Mike Stephens