Mitchell early, Johnson late, Louisville nudges Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech arriving in town with some major aspirations, after knocking off Virginia in its last game, wanting to add an exclamation mark against the University of Louisville.
Fired up, driven, with the familiar site of Coach Buzz Williams all worked up on the sideline, shedding his jacket early, changing from suit and tie at half time for a moisture-resistant sweatshirt in the final 20 minutes.
No time for any mistakes, not with Virginia Tech hitting 60% of its field goal attempts, and even better behind the 3-point line. UofL just refusing to wilt, coming away with a 94-90 win.
The visiting Hokies bringing their Barnum & Bailey circus act to town, along with a high-octane offense. They would tie an all-time record for 17 three-point baskets, daring the Cardinals to relax, take a couple of plays off.
Wasn’t going to happen Saturday, not with UofL committing a season-low three turnovers before a crowd of 21,524 fans Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.
Donovan Mitchell would take control for Louisville in the first half, connecting on his first six shots, including three 3-pointers en route while leading all scorers with 26 points.
Jaylen Johnson would take over in the second half, cleaning up beneath the basket time after time. He would score all 16 of his points in the second half, making six of nine from the field, and four of five at the free throw line. He would also have eight rebounds.
Then there was Ryan McMahon to the rescue again, making three of four 3-point shots in the second half, helping Louisville to overcome a deficit and take the lead for good.
“I wondered how we could win this game,” said Coach Rick Pitino afterwards. “Making our free throws coming the stretch was big for us. We won this game with offense.”
The Cardinals are tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, converging for a showdown at North Carolina at 9 p.m. next Wednesday.
Virginia Tech never was a team to be taken for granted, very much a threat with tournament time approaching. However, the Hokies weren’t about to slip up on Louisville, not this day, not with so much at stake for the Cardinals.