LOUISVILLE, Ky. (kT) -- Playing a slumping low major team at home and in a sour mood after suffering its first defeat of the season Tuesday night, No. 1 Louisville figured to bounce back in a big way. And that's exactly what the Cardinals (10-1) did.
Led by Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch, UofL shot 63 percent and routed Eastern Kentucky (3-7) 99-67, handing the hapless Colonels their fifth straight loss in front of 16,185 in the KFC Yum! Center and a handful of NBA scouts Saturday afternoon.
Nwora, who has topped UofL in scoring in all 11 games this year, got a game-high 26 points. Enoch set a new career-high with 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting, mostly from point-blank range, including four dunks. But he threw in an eight-foot jump hook along the baseline and banked in a 12-footer for good measure. Enoch, who hit his first seven shots, also grabbed seven rebounds. His previous best was 22 points against Boston College last season.
"Steve was crazy efficient," UofL coach Chris Mack said. "He's had those type of shots before and I don't know if I can remember him going 90 percent from the field, and we gave him an awful lot of opportunities."
Unlike their offensive struggles in the 70-57 loss to Texas Tech in the Jimmy V Classic, the Cards were pretty much able to do what they pleased with minimal resistance from the Colonels. They hit 34-of-54 shots, including 9-of-19 from 3-point land, and dished 22 assists on 34 field goals. They outscored EKU 42-18 in the paint, 34-18 off turnovers and 12-0 on fast breaks.
Mack called it a "funky game," citing EKU's changing defenses, 40 minutes of pressing and random traps, none of which slowed down the Cards. He said that coming on the heels of the Texas Tech game, he wanted his players to make sure they took better shots, took better care of the ball, made more passes and exhibited more patience. This time, he liked what he saw.
"We had opportunities where we got wide open looks, but we wanted to make sure we didn't settle for the first shot or the quickest shot," Mack said. "And I think some of our guys made some really good decisions. We weren't perfect, but I think our offense took a step forward, regardless of competition or the style of play we played against."
In support of Nwora and Enoch, Malik Williams and Dwayne Sutton each scored 11 points and point guard Darius Perry bounced back from his O-fer Tuesday to record six assists.
Nwora was coming off his worst performance of the season, having gone 4-of-16 (1-of-7 on threes) that included a pair of air balls for a season-low 14 points against Texas Tech. But he wasted no time Saturday in showing this was going to be different. He had a hot hand early, hitting his first four shots, and kept going. He finished 10-of-14, including 3-of-5 from long range.
"Games like that happen, so move on to the next one," Nwora said of his problems against the Red Raiders."I just wanted to be efficient today. Obviously, I wanted to play a lot better. Tuesday was a really bad game for me, but I wasn't really thinking about playing great. I was just thinking about winning the game. If we win, that's the most important thing."
Mack said he expected the preseason All-American forward to learn from his mistakes in the loss, when he rushed too many shots and took bad shots.
"He forced his offense and took quick shots," Mack said. "Jordan is mature way beyond where he was a year ago, but it's Madison Square Garden, all eyes are on you, our team had been playing well. He has to understand he is circled on every scouting report and we're also going to run stuff for him. When he takes those (rushed) shots we're not a good team. He understands that. He's a smart kid who has come a long, long way from a year ago. You see how he responded. He gets 26 points, but he doesn't shoot 24 times to get it. It says a lot about his maturity, his coachability and his talent."
True to his word pre-game, Mack worked freshman guard David Johnson into the rotation more. Johnson, whose previous longest action was seven minutes, played 17 minutes. His statistics were modest -- five points, two assists, two rebounds -- and Mack's review was mixed, but mostly complimentary.
"Good and bad," he said. "He's a freshman. It was just a weird game. Not a lot of teams play the way Eastern Kentucky does. But that's good for David, to have those types of experiences where they have a smaller guard up under him.
"Not only is he dealing with his primary defender, but they're randomly running and jumping. He made some turnovers in those moments, but he also did a good job with the accelerator on. He got to the rim and made some plays. Sometimes you have to go through both positive and negative experiences to be better the next time. So I like what David did today and I think he's only going to get better and better."
UofL led by as many as 23 points in the first half before settling for a 50-32 halftime cushion, then built its lead with a 20-7 run in the second half. Ty Taylor led the Colonels with 13 points and Tre King had 12.
"Louisville was hungry today and they responded and played a great game," EKU coach A. W. Hamilton said. "We did some good things, but they've got a little more talent than us and they're tough to play at home. "They're going to win a lot of games and they have a chance to win the national title."
The Cards will host Miami (Ohio) Wednesday night, then will have a 10-day break to prepare for their showdown with No. 8/9 Kentucky on Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena.
QUOTABLE--B.J. Johnson, Houston Rockets scout: "David Johnson is going to be a good one. They need him. He's their missing piece. They're waiting for (Samuel) Williamson to mature. With Johnson and him the future looks good."
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.