Just when it seems Kenny Payne has reached the end of his leash with the University of Louisville basketball program, this happens. A star emerges from a shallow and narrow bench to make the UofL administration have second thoughts about his future. Payne is not volunteering to leave, and no way is he going to make it easy for him to be sent packing.
Ty-Laur Johnson, a freshman with limited exposure, suddenly represents the future of the program. Erupting for an eye-opening 27 points in 27 minutes of playing time, putting the team on his shoulders for a shocking 101-92 victory over Florida State at the KFC Yum! Center. Equally impressive, he had a total of 11 assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. Nine of 15 from the field, nie of 10 from the free throw line. Just a remarkable performance.
A good percentage of those 11 assists obviously going to Brandon Huntley-Hatfield. He caught the contagion from Johnson, playing like a player possessed. Scoring a career high of 29 points to lead all scorers. Hitting 11 of 15 from the field, six of eight from the free throw line. A two-man tandem that was impossible for Florida State to handle.
Arguable whether Florida State wasn’t taking the Cardinals seriously, not coming prepared. UofL racing to a 13-point lead at one point in the first half. Leading by 12 at the intermission. The Cardinals refusing to wilt or fade. Sorry Seminoles, there would be no flipping the script in the second half. Johnson and Huntley-Hatfield would answer every FSU threat with more of the same.
“When we play like that, we are going to put teams on their heels,” said Payne during the post-game news conference. “We have to continue to do that.”
Whether that’s possible is an open question, based on past performance. Ty-Laru Johnson has not been heavily involved in many of those seven wins or 15 losses. But he’s going to be integrally involved the rest of the way. He is as good a player as on any of UofL opponents, and can no longer be denied his share of playing time.
As for Kenny Payne’s future, it still remains doubtful that he will return for another season. One win should never make that much difference. But getting rid of him won’t be any easier if his team defies the odds and win four or five games to close out the season.