No. 17 Louisville came in to its game against Georgia Tech facing adversity. Not only had they lost three of their past six games, but they dismissed their starting point guard, Chris Jones. How would they replace not only Jones’ intensity, but his 13.7 points he averaged? For an offensively challenged team, this task seemed monumental.
For a little more than 31 minutes Louisville struggled mightily against the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech came in to the game winners of only 3 of their 12 ACC games and 12 of their 27 games overall. Eleven of their losses have been by seven points or less and tonight’s game would be no different.
Georgia Tech controlled the game up until 8:48 remained as they led the Cardinals 41 – 28. While Louisville could not put the ball in the basket, the Yellow Jackets were showing off their athleticism by using a shot that Louisville had patented over the years — the dunk. They slammed home seven dunks and were the much faster team on the fast break.
Louisville has struggled all season putting the ball in the basket. They were 7 – 28 for 25 percent from the field in the first half and trailed 24 – 17 at the half.
The Yellow Jackets pushed the lead to 13 and then the Terry Rozier show began. Louisville had been held without a three point basket until Rozier’s three brought Louisville to within ten. Rozier hit two more threes within to pull the Cardinals with one, 43 – 42. This brought the large contingent of Louisville fans to their feet. Rozier led the Cardinals with 22 points, 18 coming in the pivotal second half.
The game would go back and forth until just under two minutes remained. Trailing 46 – 43, Montrezl Harrell took a beautiful pass on the inside and missed perhaps one of the easiest layups he has ever tried. Quentin Snider grabbed the offensive rebound and passed to Rozier who missed a three point attempt. Wayne Blackshear grabbed another Cardinals’ offensive rebound, passed to Snider, and then took a return pass and drained an open three to tie the game at 46.
Then came one of the more exciting final minutes of the season for Louisville. Tied at 46, Rozier drove down the lane for a layup putting the Cardinals ahead 48 – 46. Chinanu Onuaku was fouled after grabbing a rebound off of a Georgia Tech missed three pointer with 29 seconds left. Onuaka, a 48 percent free throw shooter, missed, giving the Yellow Jackets another chance.
With no timeouts left for either team, this began an exciting 30 second strectch. Marcus Georges-Hunt drove baseline to baseline to make a very difficult layup to tie the game at 48. Terry Rozier, ignoring coach Rick Pitino’s stop sign, drove quickly to the other end and put the Cardinals ahead 50 – 48 with an easy coast-to-coast layup. Goerges-Hunt took an outlet pass and had the ball stolen by Harrell. Harrell would then miss his free throw and with one more chance, Georgia Tech’s Travis Jorgenson drove the lane and had his shot blocked by Onuaku. Blackshear would drain two free throws to seal the game for the Cardinals 52 – 51.
Pitino gave his team a glowing compliment after their win. “I’m as proud of this basketball team as any game I’ve ever coached,” he said. Perhaps this is just coach speak or it just may be the truth. This team has been a challenge offensively and then add the Jones’ drama, just to come out with a victory is a significant step forward.
Louisville travels to Tallahassee to face Florida State. This is an important game as they will then close out against an ACC gauntlet of Notre Dame and Virginia at home.