Following a initial ten minutes of play that saw No. 18 Louisville get off to a staggering start offensively - falling behind Syracuse 18-6 with 9:51 remaining in the first half - the Cardinals used defense to rally and grab 28-27 halftime lead when Trey Lewis drained a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
That spark ignited a second half that saw the Cardinals outscore the Orange 44-31 in the final 20 minutes for a 72-58 victory. Louisville dominated in the paint, outscoring the visitors 50-20 near the rim.
"Well, we were a little nervous early in the game because we kept missing shots," said U of L head coach Rick Pitino. "What I tried to tell them was to go inside, paint touch, don't start the game shooting NBA threes, start the game getting paint touching and getting some movement. Then we started getting really good movement. They executed a beautiful play right before the half - came in with the lead and then from there we just played excellent basketball."
Led by Quentin Snider's six, the Cardinals dished out 21 assists, the most for a U of L team since totaling 21 assists against FIU on Dec., 5, 2014. Three others - Damion Lee, Donovan Mitchell and Chinanu Onuaku - had four assists.
Seven of the team's second half assists resulted in highlight reel dunks. Mitchell led all with three dunk, with Onuaku and Jaylen Johnson each recording a pair. The most discussed in the locker room immediately following the game was Mitchell's one-handed alley-oop off an assist from Lee.
"Damion saw me as soon as Nanu (got it)," Mitchell explained. "Nanu knew to pass it to Damion, who was going to pass it to me. We do the same thing in practice. If I'm on the left side, definitely throw it because I like catching it from the left side."
Mitchell had two earlier dunks. His first, an alley-oop from Trey Lewis midway through the second half that gave the Cardinals it's first double-digit lead of the game at 51-41, and his last, following a steal and full court pass from Onuaku with 2:42 left to play, but it was the one-handed slam with 4:17 remaining which ignited the more than 21,000 at the KFC Yum! Center and ranked as his favorite of the night.
"Definitely favorite one of the night," he said.
Mitchell's ability to create and seemingly float in the air, brings back memories of many prior high-flying former Cardinals. As my neighbor on press row, George Browning, Managing Editor of Green Banner Publications, said to me following Mitchell's top dunk of the evening, "he has certainly earned his lab coat," referencing the Doctors of Dunk moniker that has resonated throughout Louisville basketball since the 1980 NCAA Championship team.
So, was Wednesday night's jam Mitchell's favorite of the season? Nope. When posed with that question in the locker after the game, Mitchell responded quickly with "Florida State, easy."
Mitchell's highlights were just a part of the explosive second half that saw U of L connect on 55.6 percent of their shots.
Trey Lewis also brought CardNation to its feet when he split a pair of defenders on a fake three-point attempt that resulted a reserve layup.
"That's just about playing free, having fun," he said. "That's what it's about. Having fun out there."
Lewis was also on the receiving end of one of Onuaku's many highlight assists, a behind-the-back dish for a layup.
"You can see, he's a great passer," Lewis said. "We're used to seeing him make those kinds of passes, so it was cool to see."