"Earl Clark was spectacular," Rick Pitino said afterwards on his post-game show. "We needed Superman and he delivered in a big way."
But the Cardinals couldn't sustain their early momentum – or maintain their big lead. UofL junior guard Reginald Delk made 1 of 2 free throws with 9:25 left in the first half to give the Cardinals their biggest lead of the opening half at 18, 32-14.
Louisville, though, only scored six points in the last 9:25 as Ole Miss closed the half on a 20-6 run to cut the Cardinals margin to 38-34 at the break.
"We played awesome in the first eight to ten minutes then our guys lost confidence in Samardo – maybe rightfully so because he was playing so much below the rim that they started taking quick jump shots," Pitino said. "As good as we were in the first ten (minutes) that's as bad as we were in the second ten."
After halftime, Ole Miss cut the Cardinals lead to just one at 41-40 when David Huertas connected from outside at the 18:03 mark. The Rebels cut Louisville's lead to one-point on two occasions early in the second half but the Cardinals had answers both times.
spark off the bench against Ole Miss. (AP Photo)
Leading just 41-40, Andre McGee banked in a 3 at the 17:30 mark to give Louisville a 44-40 edge. Ahead 46-45 at the Terrence Williams made a short jumper to give the Cards a three point cushion at the 14:14 mark to keep Ole Miss at arm's length.
Samardo Samuels hit a free throw and a three-pointer from Preston Knowles gave Louisville a 52-45 lead with 13:48 left. After Malcolm White's free throw, McGee drilled another three to give Louisville a 54-45 lead. Samuels free throw on Louisville's next possession put the Cards up 56-46 at 12:40.
Ole Miss, however, wouldn't go away quietly. The Rebels again regrouped and began to cut into Louisville's double-digit lead. A quick three-pointer and layup from Huertas in a 1:40 span trimmed UofL's lead to 58-53 at the official TV timeout at 10:03. Huertas then hit seven straight free throws to cut UofL's lead to 62-60 with 8:15 remaining.
Chris Warren then hit 1-2 free throws to cut Louisville's lead to 62-61 at 7:59. And when Andre Cranston scored on an offensive rebound putback Ole Miss regained the lead at 63-62.
That's when Louisville showed their mettle.
Louisville gained control of the game with a late 10-4 mini-run over a three-minute span. During that run, the Cards got three's from Terrence Williams and Edgar Sosa, a long two from Jerry Smith and a layup from Earl Clark. Sosa's three-pointer at 4:16 gave a comfortable 72-65 lead.
With a seven point margin to work with, the Cardinals put Ole Miss away from the free throw line in the game's final minutes. Sosa hit 5 of 6 from the line down the stretch as Louisville held on for a hard-fought 77-68 win.
"Our defense was there the whole night, Earl Clark was spectacular, we rebounded well and we made some big plays down the stretch," said Pitino.
Samardo Samuels, Louisville's leading scorer at 17.0 points per game, struggled offensively against the Rebels. The 6-foot-8 freshman hit just 2 of 13 shots but still managed to finish with 9 points and 13 rebounds.
Huertas led Ole Miss with 20 points, while Chris Warren added 18. The Cardinals held the Rebels to only 32 percent shooting from the floor, including just 4 of 23 from three.
Though Louisville made only 39 percent from the floor, the Cardinals dominated the Rebels on the boards, out-rebounding Ole Miss 54-35. UofL also blocked eight shots.
Preston Knowles scored 9 points for the Cardinals, who also got seven each from Sosa and Williams. Andre McGee and Sosa both scored six points.
Louisville now will travel cross-country to Phoenix, AZ for a game vs. Minnesota Saturday at noon.