Cards' zone-busters hand  Syracuse a 90-66 beating

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Syracuse's basketball team got out of town ahead of a winter  storm in upstate New York Tuesday, then ran into a storm of another sort.

Bouncing back with a vengeance from embarrassing back-to-back losses on the road and looking once again like a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, No. 11 Louisville (22-5, 13-3 ACC) beat the fading Orange (14-12, 7-8) to a pulp Wednesday night, 90-66, in the KFC Yum! Center.

Perhaps benefitting from a wholesale lineup change, the Cardinals got off to a fast start and kept the heat on high for the full 40 minutes in shredding Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone for the second-highest number of points it has given up all year, topped only by Duke's 97-88 win.

It was also the most points the Cards have scored against the Orange in regulation since 1971 when they won the NCAA national consolation game in San Diego 96-62, encompassing a span of 25 games.
With the victory, Louisville stayed on the heels of ACC-leading Duke, which played a later game at NC State.

UofL coach Chris Mack opened with three new starters -- Ryan McMahon, Malik Williams and David Johnson -- and they returned the favor by making him look like a genius because the move worked probably even better than he dared expect.

McMahon, UofL's designated zone-buster, drilled four 3-pointers in the first half while starting for the first time since the Kentucky game on Dec. 28. He didn't hit another trey, finishing with 13 points, but he didn't need to because Williams and Steven Enoch took over inside in the second period.

Williams started for the first time this season and got 14 points and 13, the latter  equaling his career-high. He scored all but two of his points in the second half. Enoch, who was replaced by Williams in the lineup, came off the bench to score eight of his 10 points in the second half and also grabbed five rebounds.

Johnson also earned his first start and contributed a team-high seven assists with no turnovers in 23 minutes.

"Ryan was more of a matchup situation because we knew they were going to play 40 minutes of zone," Mack said in explaining the lineup changes. "David is our best player and Malik is our best defensive player, talker and our biggest energy-giver."

Old reliable Dwayne Sutton, the only player who has started every game this year, supported the new cast by turning in a terrific all-around performance with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Jordan Nwora, returning to his starting role after being benched at Clemson, had another bad shooting night (5-18), but still managed to score 17 points and also had seven rebounds and three assists.

Mack said he was proud of his team for rebounding from losses at Georgia Tech and Clemson that could have been discouraging and led to another defeat.

This looked more like the team that had put together a 10-game winning streak before  faltering twice -- there was crisp passing, constant player movement on offense, tough defense, good shooting and solid rebounding.

"I told the guys they won tonight with the attitude and mentality they had Sunday, Monday and Tuesday," Mack said. "They played for one another and the way they executed against Syracuse's zone was a big factor in us getting the shots we got."

Led by Johnson, UofL dished out a season-high 23 assists on its 30 field goals.

"We moved the ball around really well," McMahon said. "When we're sharing the ball like we did tonight, everybody knows they're going to get a touch, so that makes it easier to move around and get good shots."

Defensively, Louisville limited Syracuse's three most dangerous perimeter threats -- Buddy Boeheim, ACC scoring leader Elijah Hughes and freshman Joseph Girard III -- to 6-of-26 from 3-point range and 13-of-42 overall. Syracuse trailed just 41-34 at intermission, but shot just 26.9 percent (7-26) in the second half, including 2-of-13 from beyond the arc.

"In the first half I thought our defense was good, except for McMahon," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "In the second half they were better than us both on offense and defense. We couldn't stop their inside guys because we have no post presence and their defense was good the whole game."

Louisville led from opening tip to final buzzer. The Cards were in front by as many as 13 points, 32-19, before settling for the seven-point lead at intermission. But the final 20 minutes was strictly no contest.
The Cards took control with a 22-4 run to open a 69-44 gap and went on to lead by as many as 29 (79-50) in handing Syracuse its fifth loss in six games and sounding the death knell for the Orange's slim hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid. The win was all the more impressive considering that the Orange had nearly upset No. 8 Florida State Saturday in Tallahassee, falling 80-77.

"Louisville is a very good team. They have a chance to beat anybody," Boeheim said. "They're top 10," Boehem said of Louisville, missing it by one slot. "I don't think we're top 10. Sometimes you just have to admit a team is better. We had played better at home than on the road this season, but we just didn't have it tonight. We're just not good enough, that's the bottom line. I wish we were better, but we're not."

UofL will stay home to host last-place North Carolina (10-16, 3-12) Saturday.

BASEBALL INJURIES

Top-ranked Louisville's baseball team has gotten off to a rough start. Not only did the Cardinals drop their season-opening series at Ole Miss over the weekend, but they lost two key starters.

Second-baseman Lucas Dunn, who started 48 games last season and hit .309 with 15 stolen bases, is out for 2-3 weeks with a hand injury and didn't play in the  games. Third-baseman Alex Binelas, the team's best power hitter, suffered a hand injury in the second game and is expected to be sidelined or 3-4 weeks.

UofL (1-3) opened its home season Wednesday afternoon with a 10-3 loss to Wright State. The Cards will continue their 13-game homestand with a 3 p.m. Friday against Valparaiso in Jim Patterson Stadium.
 

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 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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