Victory is always unlikely against the #6 ranked team in the country. It’s even more unlikely when their leading scorer has a career day on offense (and you don’t). The sixth ranked Louisville Cardinals used a phenomenal second half performance to defeat Boston College 86-69. Jordan Nwora set a game, season, and career high with 37 points, while his teammate Darius Perry added 14. For the Eagles, Derryck Thornton and Jay Heath led the team with 17 and 16 points respectively.
The first half saw entertaining play by both teams during which the Eagles actually led most of the way. Nwora came out scorching hot in the first half, putting up 21 points on just 9 shots to lead all scorers. But the Eagles held their own, paced by Heath and Thornton’s 22 combined points on efficient shooting. The offense was clicking (by BC standards) and the shots were going in at an impressive (but not inherently unsustainable) clip. If either team was projected to regress to the mean, one would have expected it to be the Cardinals, who connected on 58% of their shots and 57% of threes.
What kept the Eagles in the first half against such an onslaught wasn’t the offense or even spectacular defense (which has powered them to their upsets so far this year). It was effort that resulted in 12 more shot attempts than their opponents. First, Boston College just forced the Cardinals to make mistakes, and then made them pay for those mistakes. The Cardinals committed 10 turnovers to the Eagles 3, resulting in a 12-0 points-off-turnovers margin at the half. They also turned a couple extra rebounds into a 7-1 advantage in second chance points. Altogether, it was enough to send the Eagles into the locker room down by just two.
But Louisville struck early and hard in the second half, outmatching BC athletically in the paint on both ends of the floor while taking much better care of the ball. Nwora and Johnson pulled down five offensive boards in just five minutes (BC, meanwhile, had zero). On the other end, neither Mitchell, nor Popovic, nor Felder, nor Hamilton could find any space to operate in the paint. And as the Cardinals continued to pull away, they seemed content to smother the game with free throws.
To their credit, the Eagles mustered a few defensive stands and points to keep the game within striking distance for a majority of the second half. But Nwora’s teammates, previously pretty silent, began connecting on their shots and the game got out of hand in a hurry. When the dust settled, the score was as bad as many had predicted.
The loss drops BC to 10-12 on the year and 4-7 in conference. And while as a fan I can respect and appreciate their first half effort, it is hard to be appreciative of any more “moral victories” this year. I want real ones.