NEW YORK (AP)—Louisville had a tough day at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The fifth-ranked Cardinals still managed a 60-47 victory over St. John’s because of their defense.
Their leading scorer for the season finished with three points. Their freshman center, who was half the offense in the first half, had two teeth knocked out and went to a hospital instead of returning to the game. Their shots weren’t falling. It all pointed to a second straight loss.
“Everything that could go wrong for us from a physical standpoint did,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, then started his list with his leading scorer. “Terrence Williams, I admire him so much as a basketball player. He shouldn’t have played today. His right wrist was taped up. It’s a terrible, terrible bruise, but nothing keeps him out. He couldn’t shoot but he had seven rebounds and seven assists.
“(Samardo) Samuels was playing terrific and was off to a big game but had his teeth knocked out. Our guys found a way to win against a team that played very hard. I am very pleased we overcame a lot of adversity.”
Jerry Smith, who didn’t start for the second time this season, was a big part of that.
The junior guard had a season-high 21 points, 19 in the second half when he matched the team’s entire total for the first half, its lowest mark of the season.
“It was our defensive intensity that turned things around,” Smith said. “I wasn’t looking for shots but when the opportunity came I took it.”
The Cardinals (18-4, 9-1 Big East), who were coming off their first conference loss of the season to No. 1 Connecticut, shot 38.5 percent from the field (20-for-52), including 3-for-17 from 3-point range.
The numbers are a lot better when you consider what they did in the first half.
The Cardinals were 8-for-23 at the break (34.8 percent) and missed all eight of their 3-point attempts. They were outrebounded 28-20 and Samuels was heading for a dentist appointment, while Louisville trailed 22-19.
“We were a little flat and we did have those things going against us,” Pitino said. “I was concerned because we weren’t making shots and sometimes when you don’t make shots you lose your confidence. But we went backdoor. That’s what’s we kept preaching, there’s easy baskets to be had.”
Smith had three baskets on backdoor cuts, including a backdoor dunk on a pass from Earl Clark that made it 47-38 with 2:58 to go.
Clark had 10 of his 12 points in the second half.
Sean Evans had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Red Storm (12-11, 3-8), who have lost three of four. St. John’s shot 31.1 percent for the game (19-for-61), including 2-for-12 on 3s.
“They’ve got a very good team and they made some big plays in the second half,” St. John’s coach Norm Robert said. “We missed some shots but I thought we played extremely hard. We really competed hard.”
The 47 points were the fewest Louisville has allowed in a Big East game this season. The Cardinals came in allowing 60.2 points per game overall, a figure that would be their lowest since the 1948-49 season.
“We had an opportunity today and we didn’t make the best of it,” Roberts said. “They’re not going to lay down for anybody. … They made some really, really big shots with guys all over them. Sometimes you have to live with that.”
The only player who was effective on the offensive end in the first half for Louisville was Samuels, who had nine points on 4-for-4 shooting. But he was hit in the face with an elbow with about 2:30 left in the first half.
“He had the two teeth put back in and had a bar put in and he’ll have to wear a mouthpiece,” Pitino said. “I didn’t even know it happened. Somebody said, ‘One of your players just lost some teeth.”’
Samuels was replaced by another freshman, Terrence Jennings, who finished with four points and seven rebounds, five of them offensive. All but one of the offensive rebounds came in the final 6 minutes of the game.
Louisville took the lead for good at 37-36 on a 3-pointer by Smith with 9:36 to play. The Red Storm had four field goals the rest of the game as Louisville used its variety of defenses to take control, from fullcourt pressure to zone traps to solid man-to-man.