Visiting Jackson State cut the Cardinals' one-time 18-point lead to four with just under 12 minutes to play, but UofL outscored the Tigers 23-10 the rest of the way for a 62-45 victory Saturday night in front of 22,289 fans at the KFC Yum! Center.
"We didn't come out ready to play, we came out flat," sophomore guard Mike Marra said. "(When they cut it to four) it lit a fire under us when we realized it was actually a game when it shouldn't be."
Sophomore point guard Peyton Siva spearheaded Louisville's late charge with his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor.
"Peyton in the second half gave us a good lift," UofL coach Rick Pitino said.
Junior center Terrence Jennings scored 14 points, including 10 in the second half, to lead four in double figures. Senior guard Preston Knowles added 12 points, but was just 4 for 10 from the field, while Marra and Siva scored 11 points apiece. Siva also had a game-high six assists as well as four turnovers.
"We did what we did in the first two exhibition games, we carelessly handled the basketball and it affected us negatively. We had 19 turnovers because of it," Pitino said. "We had an off-night, an off-game, but give them credit for controlling the tempo of the game."
Jackson State (0-4), the preseason pick in the Southwestern Athletic Conference which was coming off a 63-49 loss to No. 17 Baylor on Thursday night, missed its first five shots but hit back-to-back threes to take an early 6-2 lead.
The Cards (2-0) answered, though, with seven in a row on a three-pointer by Knowles followed by layups by Stephan Van Treese and Kyle Kuric.
Louisville led 13-12 12 minutes into the game before scoring eight in a row on a basket by Rakeem Buckles and two free throws from Elisha Justice and Siva each before a layup by Siva capped the surge.
The Tigers went more than six minutes without a field goal before a three-pointer by Jenirro Bush made it 24-16. However the Cards closed out the half with six in a row - on a three by Marra, a rebound basket by Jennings and a free throw from Siva - to lead 30-16 at halftime.
Jackson State shot a chilly 19 percent (5 of 26) in the first half, while UofL wasn't that much warmer at 38.5 percent (10 of 26). The Cards also committed 10 turnovers to Jackson State's eight in the first 20 minutes.
Louisville pushed its lead to 18 (39-21) early in the second half thanks to five straight points from Jennings. The Tigers, though, wouldn't go quietly. They went on a 14-2 run, as Bush scored seven of his game-high 16 points, to trim UofL's lead to 39-35 with 11:59 to play.
"I told them, ‘Just don't worry right now you're playing great, just win the game. You‘re going to have nights like this, just win the game,'" Pitino said. "In pro coaching to college coaching there's nights that you won't play well, but just win the game."
The Cards answered, though, with eight in a row - a basket by Knowles, a three by Marra, a free throw by Jennings and a layup by Siva - to go back up by double digits.
"Coach (Ralph) Willard kept telling me ‘Pick up the pressure. Pick up the pressure,'" Siva said.
UofL shot 48 percent (12 of 25) in the second half.
"They have a good team," Jackson State coach Tevester Anderson said. "They are probably a Top 25 team. They didn't shoot it as well as they usually shoot it, but they are a good shooting team...They have my Top 25 vote and I'm probably going to vote for them this week."
The Cardinals now only have one day to prepare for Chattanooga, whom they host Monday night.
"We'll have to go to work, we have a lot to improve on," Pitino said. "I'm glad we got the victory, but we have a lot to improve on to beat Chattanooga...they're a team that plays excellent defense so we have to be ready for them."