LOUISVILLE, Ky (KT) -- Maybe it was to show the 1975 Final Four team that was honored at halftime that they are capable of perhaps being feted at some future game for their NCAA Tournament success. Maybe coach Chris Mack waved the magic wand he claimed a few days ago he didn't have.
Whatever the case, this was a showcase for an overpowering Louisville Cardinals basketball team that had made only brief appearances this season, especially in the last few weeks. This time No. 6 UofL got off to a rip-roaring start and didn't let up.
And after demolishing Clemson (10-9, 4-5) 80-62 Saturday afternoon in the KFC Yum! Center, this is a team that is on the brink of history. For only the second time since joining the ACC in 2015, the Cards have won their sixth straight league games and will go to Boston College Wednesday with their sights set on a school record seven in a row.
With the victory, the Cards improved to 17-3 and 8-1 in the ACC, assuring they will remain in first place at least a half-game ahead of Florida State, which took a 6-1 record into Saturday night's home game against Notre Dame.
Louisville looked like the national championship contender it's supposed to be rather than the team that had struggled against a bunch of lower division ACC teams this month, the latest being Georgia Tech Wednesday night.
Saturday the Cards did what they were supposed to do, and more, to a team picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC and gave a dose of reality to the Tigers, who had delusions of grandeur going into the contest due to having won four of their last five, including an upset of No. 3 Duke.
Mack had been pleading with his players for 40 minutes of consistently solid basketball and the Cards delivered big-time with their best performance of the season. How remarkable, and rare, was it? It was their first wire-to-wire win since defeating Western Kentucky 71-54 on Nov. 29 in Nashville.
"I really thought our team played with tremendous energy throughout the game," Mack said. "I really think the story of the game was our ability to play with that much energy for 40 minutes. You combine that with the way we shared the ball, I thought that was a really good game for our team."
And nobody played with more energy, or efficiency, than junior guard Darius Perry, who established career highs with 19 points and five 3-pointers for his 89-game Cardinal career. Perry hit five of his six treys and was 7-of-12 overall.
“I love to see a guy like DP knock in one after another,” Mack said. “He’s a good shooter. I keep saying that and it showed tonight. He had his best game since I've been coaching him, not just on offense. I think sometimes you equate the ball goes in, so you're doing everything right, but he's really been locked down on the defensive end the last three games. He's made a difference for our team.”
Perry's 19 points against Clemson were just three less than his total for the last five games, 13 points above his season average and only the fourth time this season he has reached double figures. His previous career best was 17 points against George Mason in 2017 and Vermont in 2018. His previous high for threes was three on four occasions, the last time against Minnesota in last year's NCAA Tournament.
He has said before that he thinks he is a good long-distance bomber and the season statistics bear him out. He is third on the team in 3-point percentage at .417.
"I don’t think the challenge was really to put away the opponent by 20 or by a lot of points. I think more of the challenge was just to have a lot of energy," Perry said. "I think we’ve really been lacking in energy, and that’s why we haven’t been playing well."
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said he knew Perry was a good player because he recruited him, but maybe not quite THAT good.
“He wasn’t the first guy on the scouting report,” Brownell said. “But we knew he was a good player and when he makes shots like today, he’s an elite level player.”
As the blowout score indicates, Perry may have been the highlight for the Cards, but he had plenty of help, including from two freshmen who are rising stars. David Johnson came off the bench to get eight points, five rebounds and six assists, and Samuel Williamson had 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in a season-high 25 minutes.
Representing the upperclassmen, Dwayne Sutton contributed eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds and Steven Enoch added 11 points and seven rebounds. Malik Williams, who was limited to 13 minutes due to his bruised knee, still managed five points and six rebounds. Jordan Nwora took only five shots and scored 10 points.
Enoch and Williams also combined to limit standout Clemson big man Aamir Simms to five points on 1-of-7 shooting.
"I think we did it as a team," Mack said. "Steve started us off and took the personal challenge and did a great job, but we also crowded him when he got the ball in the post. When he caught the ball on the perimeter, our guys tightened the floor up on him."
The Cards broke the game open with a 20-0 run in a devastating five-minute stretch in the first half during which they hit 8-of-10 shots. That was after Perry scored eight of his team's first 11 points. UofL's biggest lead was 26 points, 59-33, five minutes into the second half.
Louisville shot 65.5 percent in the first half (19-29) and finished at 48.0% while holding Clemson to 34.0%, including 11-of-38 (28.0) from 3-point range.
"Louisville was more than ready and played at an extremely high level today," Brownell said. "We got punched in the mouth a little bit and let our outside shooting woes really affect us defensively. Our defense in the first half was embarrassing."
Clemson will get a chance for revenge when it hosts UofL for the rematch on Feb. 15.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org