Louisville starts road swing strong, holding off late NC State rally

Chinanu Onuaku has 12 points and 14 rebounds in Louisville’s good road win. (USATSI)

Louisville has the pieces in place to challenge for an ACC title, but it’s going to take a few more performances like its 77-72 victory Thursday at NC State before the rest of the country hops on the bandwagon.

The Cardinals have one of the best defensive ratings in the country and their only losses have come at Michigan State and at Kentucky — by a combined six points. The nonconference schedule did not provide enough other tests for this 13-2 team to find itself considered among the nation’s 10 best teams.

Rick Pitino threw a bunch of bodies at NC State early, but the Wolfpack never relented. In fact, NC State did a great job cleaning up on the offensive glass early; basically the only way they could hang in the game despite a poor shooting night.

The Cards then found themselves in trouble early in the second half with five players (Lewis, Lee, Spalding, Jaylen Johnson and Donovan Mitchell) with three fouls while at the same time NC State freshman Maverick Rowan (17 points) got loose with a couple of 3-pointers. That’s when the players of the game for Louisville — Quintin Snider (career-high 21 points) and Chinanu Onuaku (12 points, 14 rebounds) — came through with some key plays in the second half.

It’s Onuaku’s second successive game playing more than 30 minutes (the only two times this season) and second successive double-double.

Another highlight for Louisville was Ray Spalding’s play. The 6-10 freshman scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting and looked comfortable in 19 minutes of play. When NC State’s defense was sleeping, Spalding made them pay.

Louisville let NC State hang around, but there is no time to regroup with a surprisingly tough Clemson team coming up Sunday. The Tigers have victories against Florida State and at Syracuse to their name, and Littlejohn Coliseum isn’t a fun place for a favorite and not the location to find an easy victory. If Louisville finishes this road swing unbeaten, you’ll see a little more confidence in their status as an ACC title contender.

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