Pitino: Cards play ‘best game' against Ohio

Rick Pitino said after No. 11 Louisville's 91-56 win over Ohio that it was his team's best performance ‘by far' of the young season.

A quick look at the stat sheet makes it easy to understand why Pitino was so happy with his team's play in the second of three games in the Marques Maybin Classic: The Cardinals shot 51 percent from the field, made a season-high 11 three's, handed out an eye-popping 26 assists, out-rebounded Ohio 44-25, made nine steals and got 26 points from their bench.

"Their zone gives people fits but our guys did a terrific job of attacking the right seams and making the extra passes," said Pitino. "On offense tonight our guys were just tremendous. They did a great job of making the extra pass."

Though it was a great, all-around team performance, Earl Clark was the star.

The 6'9 junior forward had a bit of a slow start to the season. If Sunday's performance against Ohio is any indication, Clark is back on track.

Clark produced 10 double-doubles last season as a sophomore. Sunday against the Bobcats, Clark nearly went for his first career triple-double, leading the Cardinals to another impressive win with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists.

With Samardo Samuels a little slow to get started offensively, Clark took up the offensive slack early against Ohio. Clark started by going down to the block for short turnaround jumpers off the glass over small defenders – he did that twice in the first frame. Next, Clark showed off his versatility with a strong left handed drive for a layup, then went outside and knocked down a three.

While his point production was a welcomed development for the Cardinals, Pitino might be most impressed with Clark's unselfishness and passing. Louisville is showing signs of developing a lethal high-low game with Clark up top and Samuels around the basket. Sunday, Clark again found Samuels for easy baskets and three-point plays.

"Earl is very unselfish and T-Will is very unselfish," Pitino said. "Any time you're two best players are unselfish good things happen."

Clark wasn't the only one to breakout against Ohio. Jerry Smith also had his best game of the young season.

Jerry Smith got on track against Ohio
with four 3's.

The junior guard, who was benched against Western Kentucky, came out hot, scoring the Cardinals first seven points. That seemed to spark Smith, who finished with 16 points and made 4 of 6 three's – easily his best offensive performance in five games this season. Smith found his range from the perimeter, hitting a pair of first half three's. Louisville desperately needs Smith's outside shooting to open up the paint for Clark and Samuels, who has been facing frequent double-teaming early in the season.

Despite Smith's early offensive flurry, Louisville was a little sluggish on offense early in the game Sunday against Ohio. That was, until sophomore guard Preston Knowles entered the contest.

Knowles, known for his high energy defense, banged in two three's to spark a 9-0 Louisville run that took the Cardinals down 12-10 to the Bobcats to up 19-12 in a few short minutes. That burst got Louisville going on both ends as the Cards scored 44 first half points and held Ohio without a basket the final eight plus minutes of the opening half.

While Ohio might not be world-beaters, the Bobcats have been solid defensively this season. But Louisville made scoring look easy Sunday afternoon.

The Cardinals ball movement was crisp. They went inside-out with their passing and used the drive to suck the defense in before kicking it out to the open man for easy jump shots. That's a positive development through two games in the Maybin Classic.

Instead of settling for quick, contested three's like they did in the loss to Western Kentucky, Louisville now is starting to the move the ball around to find wide-open looks from the beyond the arch. When they do that, their shooting percentage goes way up and allows the Cardinals to get their pressure on. It's no coincidence Louisville shot 47.8 percent from three's against the Bobcats.

After the Cardinals nailed eight first half three's, Samuels went to work inside to start the second half. He scored 11 straight points during on early second half stretch, fouling out Ohio big man Devaughn Washington with 15 minutes left – and that was with Bobcats starting center Kenneth van Kempen on the bench with four fouls. When Samuels went to the bench for a rest with 13:45 remaining, he had racked up 19 points.

Louisville also did another good job on the boards. After getting out-rebounded in two of their first three games, including 48-36 against WKU, the Cardinals have shown solid progress on the backboard in the first two games of the Maybin Classic. One day after out-rebounding Indiana State 43-33, Louisville out-boarded Ohio by 19.

"We rebounded the ball terrific," said Pitino. "Ever since our rebounding has step up our basketball has stepped up."

One final note about Louisville's second consecutive win: Cards fans have to be excited about the play of freshman center Terrence Jennings. Though Jennings played only seven minutes in mop-up duty, he made the most of his playing time. His two-handed, throw down slam on the break might have been the highlight of the game but it was his pass to a cutting Kyle Kuric for a lay-up that was most impressive to this observer. Jennings finished with 6 points, two rebounds, two assists and one steal.

Next up for improving Louisville is a Monday night matchup against Lamar to wrap up the Marques Maybin Classic.

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