LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)Malik Williams’ latest stretch-run heroics for Louisville demanded athleticism, timing – and some resilience.
Williams had 13 points off the bench and grabbed two late rebounds leading to three free throws in the final 23 seconds, helping the No. 6 Cardinals hold off Georgia Tech 68-64 on Wednesday night.
Steven Enoch also had 13 points while Jordan Nwora and David Johnson each scored 10 for Louisville (16-3, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), which won its fifth in a row. The Cardinals held Tech (8-11, 3-6) to 33% shooting in the second half after the Yellow Jackets made 62% before halftime.
Most important, Louisville made just enough free throws after a shaky first half. Especially the 6-foot-11 Williams, who overcome a 1-of-4 first half at the line to make six of his final eight.
”Next-play mentality,” said Williams, who finished with six rebounds and three blocks. ”The first time (to) extend from a one-point game to a three-point game. Didn’t get the chance to make it a three-point game, but came down and got the stop and I knew that I had to make the next two.”
Louisville needed that same mindset offensively to overcome Tech.
The Cardinals trailed 43-32 early in the second half before outscoring the Yellow Jackets 22-9 over 10 1/2 minutes to lead 54-52 on Lamarr Kimble’s layup with 7:33 remaining. Louisville pushed ahead 65-54 before Georgia Tech scored 10 consecutive points to get within one with 1:20 left on James Banks III’s dunk.
Williams then blocked Moses Wright’s shot, got the rebound and drew the foul before making one of two free throws with 23.2 seconds left. Williams got another defensive rebound on Michael Devoe’s missed 3, went to the line with 7.4 seconds left and made both for a four-point edge. Jose Alvarado’s 3-point attempt with 4 seconds left bounced off the rim to Kimble.
”Our defensive energy was completely different in the second half,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. ”You’re going to ask me why and I’m going to say I have no idea. … I’d like to think that our kids care about winning, and we have a lot of pride. But it shouldn’t take a deficit to figure it out.”
In any event, Williams was there and came up big late for the second consecutive game. He sealed the Cardinals’ victory at Duke by making two free throws with 16 seconds left before stealing the ball at midcourt and finishing with a dunk.
”Malik made a couple of big ones at Cameron (Indoor Stadium) and made some big ones tonight,” Mack said. ”I’m really happy for him, and a guy like that deserves it.”
Michael Devoe had 21 points and Alvarado scored 13 for the Yellow Jackets, who lost their third straight and fourth of five.
While Tech stayed competitive using just seven players, Louisville went 10 deep with Williams and Johnson leading the way. The Cardinals’ bench outscored Georgia Tech’s reserves 32-0.
Georgia Tech: The mercurial Yellow Jackets lost their previous two games by just nine points and have lost their last four ACC matchups by 22 total points. They battled back after a cold second-half stretch but came up just short to fall to 3-2 in conference road games.
”All you can ask for is a shot to win the game late. We had two opportunities and neither fell,” coach Josh Pastner said. ”I wanted Michael Devoe to go for the win there at the end. He’s shot that 50,000 times on his own practicing. It looked good whenever it released his hands. It just rimmed out.”
Louisville: Having cleared a big hurdle last weekend with a three-game road sweep, the Cardinals sought to maintain momentum and chemistry at home. Breaking through against the Yellow Jackets took time and effort, especially considering their poor free-throw shooting (14 of 23, 60.9%).
Georgia Tech hosts North Carolina State on Saturday, seeking a season sweep. The Yellow Jackets earned an 82-81 overtime win in their conference opener on Nov. 5.
Louisville hosts Clemson on Saturday in the first of two meetings with the Tigers. The Cardinals visit Clemson on Feb. 15.
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