Final Score: Louisville 70, College of Charleston 48
Russ Smith 21 pts, 5 asts, 1 stl
Adjehi Baru 8 points (4-4 FG), 9 rebs (25 mins)
First things first. Let's make it clear for anyone who may have missed this game how misleading the final score is. For 34 minutes the College of Charleston went toe-to-toe with the defending national champions on their home floor in the season opener. With 6:41 left to play in the game the Cougars were down one basket, 48-45, after having switched leads numerous times with the Cards since the first half. From that point on a deadly cocktail of inexperienced players taking the court, ticky-tack fouls, turnovers and run-outs for the Cards swelled an otherwise commendable score to a 20+ point "boom".
It was an unfortunate end to an otherwise commendable performance by the Cougars. Starting two freshmen, CofC looked unfazed by the moment and kept the game close thanks to a usually stout defense and the early play of Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey. Neither team was particularly potent offensively for the game (Cards shot 38% to the Cougars' 41% from the field) but the Cougars did a great job of forcing Louisville into tough shots and keeping things close on the glass (41-38 in favor of UofL).
For all the good Barry and Chealey gave us in terms of shooting and play-making, both struggled with turnovers and fouls in their first collegiate game. Even though Canyon led the Cougs with 10 points, he was guilty of 6 turnovers, 3 of which were offensive fouls with the new attention to forearm push-offs. Chealey, handling the ball for much of the game, never got his pocket picked but he did end up with 7 turnovers trying to make passes against Louisville's zone (to couple with a handful of his own offensive fouls). It's hard enough for freshmen to learn what kind of contact they can and cannot get away with going from high school to college; it's even harder when no one else on the floor knows either. Charleston freshmen accounted for 15 of the team's 21 turnovers. Keeping in mind how the game ended, the Cardinals were able to turn the Cougar's errors into 27 points. That's what the Cards do best.
Despite these miscues there is still a lot to be excited for this season. Barry and Chealey will only get better at making decisions and handling pressure. The veterans - Hall, Baru and Stitt all looked solid and played much better than the last time they matched up against Louisville. Wishon and O'Donohue looked surprisingly stout defensively as a hodge-podge frontcourt that played more than anticipated with Baru's foul trouble.
Let's take a look at some other game notes:
- As if a new interpretation of the NCAA rulebook wasn't enough to throw a game into whack, Charleston's native son and everyone's favorite ref was on hand to call this game
- Nothing but praise for Joe Chealey by Louisville's commentators and national media alike. The 6'3 PG who celebrated his 18th birthday less than a week ago handled everything that was thrown at him with composure. Yes, he had the 7 turnovers and foul trouble but he was relentless at getting to the basket, hit some tough shots, controlled the pace of CofC's offense and found his men. Such a bright future ahead for him. This team has been absent of a true point guard for the better part of a decade. It's refreshing to see a guy with the potential to drive-and-kick or run the pick-and-roll.
- Speaking of bright futures, this was my first look at Canyon Barry in live game action and he too did not disappoint given his boxscore. Moves well without the ball, made a great play pulling up for a jumper (and swishing it) in transition on a 1-on-2 and came down with 3 boards. The only thing I would change- he went 0-for-4 with the much-lauded underhand free throws. Those attempts were costly as momentum swingers and ignited the Louisville student section.
- Had it not been for some unfortunate foul trouble that caused coach to sit him for much of the first half, Adjehi Baru could have had the kind of numbers he had against Louisville last year. Taking advantage of the absence of Dieng and Behanan, Adjehi was perfect from the field (4-4) and pulled down a team high 9 rebounds in just 25 minutes. He looked so smooth and polished on his post moves and has gotten better at being ready with his hands when Chealey or Stitt drives and dumps off to him.
- David Wishon, playing 21 more minutes than he has since 2011, played within himself and looks like a capable back up. He did not turn the ball over, hit his only field attempt (a pretty turn hook shot over the left shoulder) and altered a number of shots in the paint. Even though he's not a freshman, this was Wishon's first playing time in years and he will get better as he gets back up to speed.
- Loved the rim protection of the surprisingly deep front court rotation. Going to be very difficult for CAA opponents to score on a combo of Wishon, O'Donohue, Johnson/AT coming off the bench
- Jonathan Burroughs-Cook is pushing Theo Johnson for the "most highlights per minute" title. After having the play of the game against Newberry, JBC hit a big three that stopped a Cardinal run and got the Cougars right back into it after things were starting to go stale
- Louisville averaged 20 personal fouls as a team at home last season. They had 14 in the first game of a season that is supposed to be called tighter than ever
- Adjehi Baru, Willis Hall and David Wishon were a combined 8-10 from the field for 17 points. They need to get the ball more. They should have gotten more touches tonight but the CofC guards were having trouble threading them passes in the right positions.
- Free throw shooting needs to be better. The Cougs only attempted 10 but they hit just four. Barry going 0-4 did not help. The bigs on this team might be better shooters from the line than the guards.
- Big game Tuesday for the home opener against UNC Charlotte. The 49ers are a very good mid-major team on par with where the Cougars want to be. Play like we did the first 3/4 of this game and we'll fare well. Take a step back and CofC will be looking at an 0-2 hole to start the year. Fans need to show up and show out. Big things could be in store for this season.