No. 4 Louisville’s 20-point margin of victory over Indiana in its 94-74 win Tuesday night wasn’t indicative of how competitive the game really was in Madison Square Garden. Similar to the Hoosiers’ 17-point loss at No. 4 Syracuse last season, Indiana held an early lead in the second half but let the game slip away in ugly fashion towards the end. The Hoosiers, who thrive on three-point shooting, were held to one made shot from behind the arc in the second half — a Yogi Ferrell three-pointer that gave them a four-point advantage with 17:23 left in the game.
Getting hot from deep was the one way Indiana could’ve pulled off the upset. A 7-of-10 effort from downtown in the first half kept the Hoosiers within striking distance as they trailed 46-41 at halftime.
It’s no secret that three-pointers are worth more points than a shot anywhere else on the floor. Indiana’s rate of success on three-point attempts, which wasn’t sustainable for 40 minutes against the second most efficient defense in college basketball, made up for Louisville’s clear advantage in the rebounding and turnover departments.
The Cardinals manhandled the Hoosiers in the paint. Louisville had a 52-34 advantage on the glass, grabbing 26 of its 44 missed shots (a 59.1 percent offensive rebounding rate). Offensive rebounds led to second-, third- and even a fifth-chance opportunity for Louisville to score. In total, 26 offensive rebounds led to 25 second-chance points against Indiana.
Rick Pitino’s Cardinals made the Hoosiers pay for their lack of size and ability to box out. Indiana junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, 6-foot-9, was Indiana’s only rotation player who had the size to match up with Louisville’s enormous front line.
All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell, who has the size and the skill to more or less play like a “Monster” from “Space Jam,” had 21 points, 11 rebounds and became Louisville’s all-time leader in dunks after he threw down seven slams against the Hoosiers.
“In my opinion, he’s the best player in the nation,” Pitino told reporters after the game. “Montrezl Harrell plays every possession like he hasn’t eaten in a week.”
While Mosquera-Perea drew two charges against Harrell and showed polish offensively with 10 points, Harrell was too much for Indiana to handle. Mosquera-Perea was limited to 20 minutes after picking up four fouls in the game.
When Indiana’s starting big man was out of the game, Indiana coach Tom Crean relied on 6-foot-7 forwards Troy Williams, Emmitt Holt, and Collin Hartman to hold down the fort, but Louisville was just too big.
If Harrell wasn’t slipping behind Indiana’s 2-3 zone defense and bringing the house down with his dunks, it was Chinanu Onuaku, Mangok Mathiang, Anas Mahmoud, or Jaylen Johnson giving the Hoosiers matchup problems in the post.
While Indiana’s backcourt largely broke the Cardinal’s full-court pressure with ease, Louisville’s duo of upperclassmen guards wore down the Hoosiers and ultimately had the final say. Indiana shot just 40.6 percent from the field in the second half and had 19 turnovers in the game.
“Sooner or later, shooters’ legs are gonna get weary and that’s all we were trying to do,” Pitino said.
Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, who led Louisville’s intense defensive ball pressure, combined for 50 points, seven three-pointers, 15 rebounds, and six assists.
“That’s what relentless, attacking basketball on both ends looks like,” Crean said.
Indiana fought against a more talented and much bigger Louisville team that is among the best in the nation.
Crean said he hasn’t seen Kentucky and Duke, the top two teams in the polls, play this season but he’d put Louisville in that conversation with the best teams in the country.
“They’re going to be hard to beat,” he said. “I don’t care who’s out there.”
Outside of a trip to Madison, Wisc. to face the Badgers on Feb. 3, it is unlikely Indiana will play a team as talented as the Cardinals the rest of the season.
In defeat, the Hoosiers showed heart, a potent offense, and a yet-to-be-defined ceiling. While Louisville had its highest-scoring outburst of the season and won by double figures, Indiana made a positive impression on Pitino.
“They’re gonna be an NCAA tournament team,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”