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- American basketball player
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Entering Saturday, Noah Locke and Matt Cross were on a long list of Louisville basketball players who needed to give the offense something more.
In a 73-68 win at N.C. State, they gave the Cardinals just what they needed – just when they needed it.
Locke tied the game with a 3-pointer with 1:31 to play, and Cross put the Cards in front with 26 seconds left, burying a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock buzzer that put Louisville in front to stay.
Cross had contributed for much of the game with his effort – crashing the glass for seven rebounds, hitting the floor for loose balls and generally throwing his body around to keep the Cards competitive as a 14-point lead turned into a five-point deficit.
"I got to figure out something else to do to help the team to be on the court, because I haven't been able to put the ball in the ocean, at all," Cross said.
In the biggest moment of the game, he put it through the net, his third 3-pointer of the game.
The play that set up Cross' game-winner is called "Butler," Louisville coach Chris Mack said in a Zoom news conference after the game. He lifted it from from former Butler coach Brad Stevens' playbook.
With only 2 seconds on the shot clock in a tie game, the play wasn't designed for a Cross 3-pointer. But a pass from Dre Davis put the Miami transfer in position to bury a shot from the corner.
"I think (N.C. State) got confused and weren't sure what to do with the screen," Mack said. "Matt just kind of filtered back to the 3-point line. Probably could've shot a 12-footer, but opted to put it to a 3-point margin, which made his coach feel very, very good."
Mack called it "great execution" from a team he's been asking to improve in that area.
With the win, Louisville (6-2, 1-0 ACC) avoided an 0-2 week – the Cards lost at No. 22 Michigan State on Wednesday – bolstered its postseason resume and avoided blowing a big halftime lead.
And at times, it looked to have finally found an offensive groove.
That was more true in the first half than the second, but still the Cardinals had perhaps their best offensive performance, with five players scoring in double figures, including heroes Cross (13 points) and Locke (12). Malik Willams led Louisvlle with 14 points. Dre Davis added 14 and El Ellis 11.
Three takeaways from the Louisville win:
Malik Williams puts it together
When he walked in to meet with reporters Friday, Williams was wearing a gold-and-red practice jersey.
It was, Williams said, the fifth time this season he’s earned the golden threads, a reward for practice performance. He wasn’t counting. There’s a board on the wall at the practice facility, he said, that keeps track.
“It’s not subjective,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “It’s based on raw data from practice. He’s earned it by grabbing the most rebounds, blocking the most shots, converting around the basket better than the other guys in practice.”
There’s no golden game jersey. If there were, Williams would have been in contention for it Saturday.
He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, making 6 of 8 shots and 2 of 3 3-pointers.
On Friday, Mack said Williams still was finding his role in the offense, that he was popping out for jump shots too often after setting screens and not rolling to the rim enough. He showed a little of everything in his offensive arsenal Saturday, and his first-half production – 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting – helped the Cardinals build a 43-29 halftime lead.
"Malik gave by far his best effort of the year on both ends of the floor," Mack said after Saturday's game. "We consciously played him three-, four-minute spurts so that he could always be at his best and not sort of wither as time went on."
Louisville’s 3-point course correction
After the Cardinals won the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship with a pair of grind-it-out defensive games, assistant coach Mike Pegues – then U of L’s acting head coach – predicted that someday shots would drop for a good-shooting Louisville team struggling to get buckets.
In stretches on Saturday, Louisville made Pegues a prophet.
The Cards made 7 of 15 3-pointers in the first half, and though the finished the second half 4 for 13 from 3-point range, Locke and Cross made two that changed the game.
Louisville builds its NCAA Tournament resume
Eight games feels early in a season to talk about an at-large tournament bid. But Louisville has played a quarter of its regular-season games, and though Saturday’s league opener was a mere ACC aperitif – the Cards open conference play in earnest at Wake Forest on Dec. 29 – quality road wins in the league will be critical.
The ACC is off to an uncharacteristically sluggish start. Entering Saturday’s games, it was the fifth-highest-rated conference at KenPom.com, behind the Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Big East. That will limit the opportunity for quality wins, and Saturday was a solid one. The Wolfpack ranked 68th at KenPom to start the day. That’s well behind Louisville’s No. 39, but high enough to consider a win significant.
With wins against Mississippi State (No. 42 at KenPom) and Maryland (No. 46), Louisville is off to a good start. But Kentucky (No. 13) is the only top 40 KenPom opponent remaining on Louisville’s nonconference schedule, and in the ACC only Duke and Virginia Tech rank in the top 30.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville basketball rallies vs. NC State with Noah Locke, Matt Cross