It was looking grim at the Watsco Center as Anas Mahmoud stepped to the line for his second of two free throws. He had just knocked down the first one to give Lousiville a 69-67 lead with just 13 seconds left and had yet to miss from the line, as he put together a stellar 15 point effort. The second free throw wouldn’t ice the game, but would definitely make things more difficult for a ‘Canes team that shot just 27.3% from deep all game. When the second bounced off the rim, there was hope in Coral Gables.
The ball found its way into the hands of Freshman Lonnie Walker IV who was in the middle of a career game. The Freshman stood at the top of the key drove left and then floated for what felt like an eternity. A defender draped on him, Walker moved the ball from his left to his right hand and threw up an impossible shot off the glass.
Somehow, someway the ball went in.
Adel Deng missed a 3 pointer as time expired and the game was headed to overtime.
Overtime was a sluggish affair with the ‘Canes first points not coming until 1:17 left in the period. Down the stretch the ‘Canes missed huge free throws that could have iced the game, but as Ryan McMahon lined up for the game winning 3 pointer, it was again Walker who came up huge, blocking the shot and sending the ‘Canes to a 78-75 victory.
Walker’s 25 point performance, full of clutch plays and huge shots, was exactly what ‘Canes had been looking for all season. This wasn’t a great performance against a cupcake. This was clutch performance against a 5-1 conference opponent, who was in the midst of trying to prove themselves to poll voters. The ‘Canes had started the season ranked higher than any other team in program history, but had fallen from the rankings for the first time this season on Monday. The ‘Canes weren’t playing bad, they just couldn’t figure out a way to close games. Tonight, Lonnie Walker and the ‘Canes found a way.
The ‘Canes came into the game with a clear plan. 7 of their first 10 shots were in the paint, which led to them being in the bonus just over halfway through the half. Though the fouls piled up, the points did not as the ‘Canes went into the under 12 timeout shooting 3-12 from the field and down 13-8. Coming out of the timeout the ‘Canes got two free throws from Chris Lykes followed by back to back turnovers by Louisville which sparked an 11-0 run. But the Cardinals weren’t phased by the run as the rest of the first half was a back and forth affair, culminating with a Louisville 38-37 lead heading into the break.
The most staggering stat staggering stat heading into half may have been that down only 1, superstar Bruce Brown Jr. had yet to make a field goal. This is a deep ‘Canes team that can find numerous ways to put points on the board.
The second half saw both teams go on 6-0 runs which were halted by well timed timeouts by both coaches. Again the ‘Canes did their best to draw fouls, taking the ball into the paint and trying to get to the stripe, but again it was a struggle.
Both teams went cold halfway through the second, and neither team was able to pull away from the other. Down 57-54 with 7:27 left, the Canes went on a 6-0 spurt to go up 60-57 before Louisville went on a 4-0 mini run to regain the lead. Then Lonnie Walker hit one of his many huge shots as he sunk a 3 to go up 63-61. Down the stretch the Cardinals missed huge free throws, which kept the ‘Canes alive. But the ‘Canes didn’t always capitalize, and even wasted an opportunity after a steal with just over 30 seconds left and down 68-67. It all ended with a sloppy overtime period that surely won’t find any ‘Canes fans apologizing as they earned their biggest win of the season and moved to 4-3 in conference play.
Dewan Huell’s performance will surely be overshadowed by Walker’s incredible play, but the big man recorded another double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds. He also got the scoring started in overtime, albeit nearly 4 minutes in and helped propel the ‘Canes to the victory
Free Throw Shooting:
This is something we have been watching all season, and though it got sketchy at the end of overtime, the ‘Canes were much improved for most of the night. The ‘Canes wanted to get to the line and when they did they knocked down the shots, going 22-31 for the game.
The ‘Canes travel to Florida State on Saturday where they will look to complete a season sweep of their rivals.
Louisville heads home for a matchup against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Saturday.