Freshmen lift No. 16 Louisville past George Mason
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A pair of freshmen provided the lift No. 16 Louisville needed on Sunday.
Freshmen Darius Perry and Jordan Nwora each went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc to help push the Cardinals past George Mason 72-61.
Perry finished with 17 points. He hit all eight of his free throws. Nwora had 10 points and Malik Williams scored two as freshmen scored 24 of Louisville’s 48 second-half points to save the Cardinals (1-0) from an embarrassing start to new coach David Padgett’s tenure.
“We couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean in the first half,” Padgett said. “I think we were 1-for-10 and all 10 of them were great, wide-open looks. We just didn’t make them. ... I thought our guys did a good job of staying in there, staying tough, even though we got down there late in the second half. We hit a couple of big shots — Jordan came in, Darius came in and gave us some great minutes. We’re 1-0 so that’s what it’s all about.”
Louisville’s freshmen impressed George Mason coach Dave Paulsen.
“Nwora, I’ve seen him play ... so I knew what he could do and he was impressive in the exhibitions and the kid (Darius Perry) was impressive in the exhibitions and he was really good tonight,” Paulsen said. “So, I would guess those guys kind of helped themselves a little bit in their playing time.”
Junior wing Deng Adel led Louisville with 20 points.
George Mason (1-1) got 20 points and 10 rebounds from junior guard Jaire Grayer, 18 from sophomore guard Justin Kier and 12 from sophomore guard Ian Boyd.
Louisville trailed for most of the game against the unranked Patriots. The Cardinals missed nine of their first 12 shots including all three 3-point attempts, but only trailed 9-6 thanks to stingy defense.
George Mason led 14-8 with just over nine minutes remaining in the first half until a Louisville run put the Cardinals up 17-14 with just over seven minutes left capped by a Quentin Snider fast-break layup.
The Cardinals missed eight straight field-goal attempts after Snider’s layup as George Mason came back to lead 27-24 at halftime. Louisville hit just 8 of 28 shots in the first half and missed nine of its 10 3-point shots.
“I told my guys to relax,” Padgett said of his halftime speech. “We were 1-for-10 at halftime and many of those were good shots. I told them to relax and shots would fall. And they did.”
The most relaxed players on the court in the second half appeared to be Louisville’s freshmen. Perry poured in 12 points in the second-half, Nwora hit three 3s and a free throw and Malik Williams notched a pair of free throws to help steady the Cardinals who only got seven total points on 1-for-9 shooting from veterans Ray Spalding and VJ King.
“They’ll be fine,” Padgett said. “I think both guys were pressing a little bit and I don’t know that for sure, but ... they’ll be fine. They are too talented. They are two kids that work too hard. They are going to be fine.”
George Mason led 46-40 before Louisville launched a 12-0 run that included two 3s from Nwora and another by Perry. The Cardinals never trailed again.
“I think we really, really battled,” Paulsen said. “I told our guys I’m not into moral victories, but I am into the process. We talk about process all the time, and we’re a better team tonight than we were on Friday, and that’s what it’s got to be about.”
For Louisville, they got the win in the season opener, but will need to improve dramatically to prep for a tough nonconference and ACC schedule. Padgett, who took over for fired coach Rick Pitino just days before practice started this fall, said Sunday’s first win was a relief.
“It’s almost like, not the weight of the world off our shoulders, but just relief,” Padgett said. “For six weeks to today, we were practicing getting ready for this game and now that it is finally here, I think we were anxious. Some of us have a little bit of nerves, but now we can just get in the routine of games moving forward.”
NOTES: Sunday’s game was the first for Louisville’s David Padgett as interim coach. Padgett, a former assistant, was elevated to the coaching post when Rick Pitino was suspended and then later fired in the wake of an FBI investigation into pay-for-play deals in college basketball. ... Padgett is Louisville’s third coach since 1971, following Hall of Famers Denny Crum (1971-2000) and Pitino (2001-2017) ... Louisville leads the series with George Mason 4-0. The last meeting prior to Sunday was a 132-87 win in Freedom Hall on Jan. 4, 1994.