LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)El Ellis had career highs of 30 points and 10 assists and Louisville finally won after opening the season with nine losses, beating Western Kentucky 94-83 on Wednesday night to give Kenny Payne his first win as a head coach.
The Cardinals’ nine losses were the most to start a season in Atlantic Coast Conference history and completely foreign for a program ranked in the top 15 all-time in winning percentage with eight Final Four appearances and 39 overall in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve had winning seasons in 73 of the last 77 years.
”Loved the way we finally played, with toughness and energy and confidence,” Payne said. ”I just told the guys this: What did it smell like? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? Because winning one, imagine what it’s like to win 80 and 90% of your games. You’ve got to sacrifice your life to it.
”So hopefully this is a stepping stone that they greatly needed because they put in a lot of work. But we have to build on this game and continue the momentum going and get over the schneid. You know, they deserve it. They worked really hard, harder than I can tell you. They’re good kids. It’s all about them.”
Louisville ended the skid behind 52% shooting from the arc, hitting 13 of 25, after coming in making 29%. That long-distance accuracy came against a Hilltoppers team (8-2) ranked second in the nation at 43% from distance but was 9 of 26 this night for 35%.
Ellis shot 10 of 19 and made four 3-pointers in posting his first career double-double. Kamari Lands added a career-high 15 points, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield had 11 and Sydney Curry and Jae’Lyn Withers 10 apiece.
Dayvion McKnight scored 25 points on 11-of-22 shooting to lead WKU, which had a five-game winning streak snapped. Jairus Hamilton added 20 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double this season.
Louisville maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half, leading by as many as 20. WKU got within 10 three times in the final three minutes, but Louisville hit all 10 of its free throws in that span.
Ellis surpassed his season scoring average of 15.6 by halftime with 17 points and Louisville took a 46-35 lead on JJ Traynor’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Cardinals made five straight shots to start a 19-7 run that included three 3-pointers by Ellis for a 26-22 lead with seven minutes left in the half and they led the rest of the way.
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