LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Carlik Jones and Samuel Williamson lived up to expectations. David Johnson didn't.
That sums up a couple of the most notable developments in Louisville's opening 79-44 rout of Evansville Wednesday afternoon in the KFC Yum! Center as the pandemic-shortened college basketball season finally got underway, although there weren't many fans around to see it in person.
Attendance was limited to 3,000 in the 22,000-seat arena and that's the number that was announced, so it was unusually quiet in the cavernous building. Nonetheless, it was business as usual for the Cardinals, who dominated their outclassed foe, as expected, in handing the Aces their 20th straight defeat.
There was not going to be a repeat of an upset like the one Evansville handed top-ranked Kentucky last season, even without much of a homecourt advantage.
"We definitely missed the presence of Card Nation out there today," Williamson said. "But when you're out there playing, you're only focusing on what's going on in the game. You can't worry about how many people are in the crowd or how loud it is. We definitely missed the atmosphere we typically get here at the Yum Center, but when you're on the court you're focusing on so many other things."
That focus worked out well for Williamson and Jones, the graduate transfer from Radford who made his debut as a Cardinal a memorable one with 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, all team-leading totals. He hit 6-of-11 shots, including both of his 3-point attempts.
"I was excited," he said. "I hadn't had this feeling for a while. I've been playing college basketball for quite awhile, so I felt comfortable from the jump. But when I got into the paint for the first time and scored, that's when I got rolling."
UofL coach Chris Mack said Jones' performance was no surprise. Both he and his players had called the 6-foot-1 guard the team's most impressive player during preseason practice.
"It's what we've come to expect," Mack said. "I don't know what the numbers will be each and every game. THere'll be certain games where teams will really try to take him away, deny his touches. He'll have to work a lot harder than he did tonight. But he has a really good poise about him and he can create his own shot and shots for other players at any point in time."
Williamson, who drew the start even though he wasn't listed in the probable lineup by the school's sports information department, was almost as good as Jones. The 6-7 sophomore had 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and five assists.
Other than Williamson and Jones, UofL also got strong performances from two of its freshmen -- 6-8 forward J.J. Traynor and 6-5 swingman Dre Davis. Traynor got 11 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes, while Davis had seven rebounds and five assists to go along with four points in 28 minutes. Traynor, from Bardstown, Ky., hit all five of his shots, all from point-blank range on passes from Jones or Williamson.
"I have a lot of confidence in both of them, a lot of confidence," Mack said of Davis and Traynor. "Now, they're going to face different tests as we move forward, but Dre is just very, very solid. And if J.J. was 20 pounds heavier and stronger, he'd be one of the better frontcourt players in our conference.
Johnson, meanwhile, picked up two quick fouls and wasn't a factor offensively, although he did contribute seven rebounds and five assists in 23 minutes. Along with Jones, he was expected to be the Cards' best playmaker this year, but he didn't get his first field goal until inside the 5-minute mark and he had four turnovers.
"I talked to him in the locker room just now," Mack said. "I told him, 'You've got to have a lot more awareness of the situation. Number one, you're one of the few healthy guards right now and we need you in the game. And to take yourself out of the game, you shouldn't be in that position.' Hey, Dave's got to play better. We've come to expect a lot more out of Dave; he's been so much better in practice. Despite him committing (three fouls in the first half), I still think he should have played better and kept his head in the game and been more of a positive when he got back in the game."
UofL shot 58.5 percent (31-53) for the afternoon while holding Evasnville to 29.8 (14-47), including 6-of-26 from 3-point range. The Cards also clobbered the Aces 46-18 on the boards and scored 48 points in the paint.
It was Louisville's latest start to a season in 17 years. By this time last year, the Cards had already played six games in addition to two exhibitions. Evansville put up only token resistance, but the competition will jump up more than a few notches Friday because defending Big East champion Seton Hall promises to be a formidable challenge even though the Pirates, like UofL, suffered heavy personnel losses, including Big East Player of the Year Myles Powell.
"Typical first game," Mack said. "I thought early on, the first five or six minutes, we were a little jumpy, but after that our guys settled down on the offensive end. Defensively, I thought we were pretty good until the last five or six minutes. Now we've got to turn the page quick and start getting ready for Seton Hall."
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 email@example.com.