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- American basketball player and coach
Someday Louisville is going to make some shots.
Mike Pegues, the U of L assistant who’s about to give up his title as acting head coach, is certain of that. The Cardinals have good shooters. They’re getting good looks. Those shots will drop one of these days.
It didn’t happen against Maryland on Saturday.
But Louisville’s 63-55 win against the Terrapins in the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship title game was made that much sweeter – “unbelievably gratifying,” Pegues called it – by some sour notes offensively.
The Cardinals will welcome back coach Chris Mack this week, his six-game university-mandate suspension having ended. But in Pegues’ final game as acting head coach, Louisville found a way to grind out a game in which it never found its shooting stroke.
Louisville won despite shooting 35% from the floor and committing 17 turnovers. The Cards hit 6 of 27 3-pointers. In one first-half stretch, U of L went 5 minutes and 37 seconds without a single point.
“We can shoot the ball,” Pegues said afterward in a Zoom news conference from Nassau. “But until we figure that rhythm out, until we make shots, let’s keep guarding. Let’s rebound the ball. Let’s not lose games just because we aren’t making shots. Ebbs and flows when you shoot the ball, but defense has to be a constant.”
Louisville found in the Bahamas a defensive identity it lacked back home, and that was the foundation of the weekend’s tournament title. The Cardinals (5-1) held the Terrapins to 38% shooting, including 4 of 14 from 3-point range. For the second straight game in Nassau, Louisville was the more assertive, more physical team. It outrebounded Maryland 51-25.
“That was our goal going into the game, to be the Baha Bullies,” U of L forward Malik Williams said after he finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds against the Terrapins. “And I feel like we did a good job of being that. The rebounding margin is incredible.”
And a week ago, almost unfathomable.
Louisville arrived at the Baha Mar Resort as a team with a tendency relax on the glass. In their first four games the Cardinals had outrebounded opponents by an average of 2.5 per game. They’d been outrebounded in a loss to Furman and a win against Navy, and opponents were grabbing 9.3 offensive rebounds per game to Louisville’s 8.8.
In the Bahamas, the Cards were “a different team,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. They beat Mississippi State 47-38 on the backboards in a 72-58 Thanksgiving night win and had 15 offensive rebounds to the Bulldogs’ 10.
Louisville was even better Saturday, more than doubling up the Terps on the glass and grabbing 17 offensive rebounds to Maryland’s two. That helped give the Cards a 16-3 edge in second-chance points.
“Our whole game plan was to box them out and rebound, and we didn’t do it,” Turgeon said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team get beat that bad on the boards.”
That was by design.
After last weekend’s underwhelming win against Detroit Mercy, there had been a difficult film session and an honest meeting with coaches, then another among players only in which the Cardinals owned up to their shortcomings through the first four games of the season, forward Malik Williams said.
The idea was to emerge in the Bahamas as a team committed to defense and battling on the backboards.
And the group Turgeon saw in Nassau was “a heck of a team,” he said, deep and physical with talented pieces.
And it was a team that could win on a morning when it couldn’t make shots.
It helped that Jarrod West hit some in the nick of time. The Marshall transfer scored seven points in a 14-4 run that turned a five-point Cardinals deficit into a five-point lead with 2:39 to play in the game. Louisville led the rest of the way, holding Maryland without a field goal in the final 2:23. That spurt also included a 3-pointer from Matt Cross and a jump shot from Noah Locke, big baskets on a day when Louisville didn’t make many – and managed to need only a few.
“Our guys showed a resilience and a toughness that we weren’t gonna let the offensive end dictate how we guarded and how we rebounded, and that’s why we won,” Pegues said. “And that’s a tribute to our guys and their competitive character.”
At some point, Pegues figures, Louisville is going to make its share of jump shots. It’ll hit 15 3-pointers some game, he said. Against Maryland it managed fewer than half that. But on a day when shots weren’t dropping on either side, Louisville won mostly by grabbing so many more misses than Maryland.
Pegues will take it.
“Fifty-one to 25 in unbelievable,” he said. “If I don’t remember any other stat, I’ll remember that stat for the rest of my life. If I never become a head coach, I’ll always remember the fact that we outrebounded a Big 10 team 51-25.”
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville basketball rides defense to win over Maryland in Bahamas