Russ Smith led Louisville's comeback Saturday over Illinois St.
Smith, with his relentlessness in attacking the basket, and Van Treese, with his energized play off the bench, helped UofL rally from a 13-point first-half deficit and edge Illinois State 69-66 in front of 19,816 fans at the KFC Yum! Center.
The Redbirds (5-2) had two shots to tie the game in the final seconds, but missed both, as fifth-ranked Louisville (6-1) bounced back from its loss to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis with a hard-fought victory.
“We felt it was going to be that type of game, and it was,” UofL coach Rick Pitino said. “They outplayed us. We played really hard. They had answers to everything that we put at them, but we played really hard.
“It’s a great win for us because we think they are a hell of a basketball team.”
Illinois State, which returned four starters from a team that went 21-14 last season, jumped out to a 17-4 lead on Louisville a little more than eight minutes into the game led by Tyler Brown and Jackie Carmichael, and in spite of the fact it was without starting point guard Kaza Keane, who turned his ankle in practice Thursday.
Brown, a 6-foot-4 senior shooting guard from Owensboro, accounted for eight of the Redbirds’ first 17 on a pair of three-pointers and a dunk. Meanwhile Carmichael, a 6-9 senior forward who was a preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference selection, tallied seven of his team’s first 17.
The Cards missed seven of their first eight shots, went 0-for-4 from the free throw line (all misses by Chane Behanan) and had four turnovers before Smith’s steal and dunk ignited the crowd, and made it 14-4 with 12:07 to play in the first half. Brown responded with his second three-pointer, a rainbow over Luke Hancock, to give the Redbirds their largest lead before Van Treese sandwiched baskets around a layup by ISU’s Bryant Allen.
While sophomore Zach Price got his second straight start in place of junior center Gorgui Dieng, who is out with a broken wrist, Van Treese was the Cards’ biggest contributor off the bench. The 6-9 senior forward from Indianapolis, who nearly transferred in the offseason, hustled for a rebound on Illinois State’s ensuing possession, and that led to Hancock feeding Montrezl Harrell for a layup on the other end.
Brown answered with a jumper, before a Siva scoop shot in the lane, then hit another three-pointer over Hancock. Carmichael scored inside on ISU’s next possession to push the Redbirds’ lead back to 13 (25-12).
Smith and Van Treese then accounted for all the points in a 13-6 UofL run that help the Cards’ cut their deficit to six. In that span Smith hit three layups and two free throws, while Van Treese scored on a tip-in then assisted a three-pointer by Peyton Siva.
“Stephan Van Treese gave us a tremendous lift,” Pitino said. “Stephan is a warrior. Every single day these guys are tired of him. We watch (NBA player) Kenneth Faried tapes, and his technique, every day. Stephan has looked at it. Stephan wasn’t a good rebounder because he stays in his plane, but he’s been watching Faried and the key to why Faried is so great is not only does he block out at the defensive end, but he watches the ball the entire time, so he knows how to chase it down and tip it to himself. We’re watching and trying to get that technique and Chane and Stephan have been getting better at that.
“(Van Treese) gave us a big lift when we needed it. It’s going to be a fight. We’re not going to have an easy game, but it’s going to be a fight until we get our shot blocker (Dieng) back. But Stephan did a fabulous job.”
“I just have to go out there with the mentality that nobody is going to get that rebound, but me,” said Van Treese, who had six rebounds in the first half and finished with eight for the second straight game.
After Louisville trimmed the Redbirds’ lead to 31-25 Brown knocked down two free throws to give ISU an eight-point lead at halftime. Brown, who finished the first half with 14 points, and Carmichael (13) combined to outscore the Cards in the first half as the Redbirds shot 58.3 percent (14 for 24) from the field.
On the flip side, Smith had 10 points and Van Treese six points and six rebounds for the Cards, who shot 42.3 percent (11 of 26) from the field and were only 2 of 7 from the free throw line in the first 20 minutes.
“I thought we were fine,” Pitino said. “I said, ‘They are making some very difficult shots.’ I said, ‘This is going down, even if we take the lead, this is going down to the wire in this game.’ We knew it would.”
Twelve seconds into the second half Behanan converted a conventional three-point play, which drew Carmichael’s third foul and also triggered a 12-2 run by the UofL.
Behanan’s reverse layup, with 16:37 to play, gave UofL its first lead since he hit a jumper 39 seconds into the game. However Brown’s tip-in on the other end tied it 17 second later, then Hill’s layup gave the lead back to the Redbirds. They would hold it for the next 9:41. During that time Siva picked up his fourth foul (with 13:09 to play) and ISU led by as many as six points (four different times).
Carmichael’s free throw with 9:07 remaining gave the Redbirds a 57-51 lead before the Cards ran off nine in a row. Behanan’s jumper with 6:08 to play gave Louisville the lead back (58-57) before Smith capped the Cards’ surge with two free throws with 5:01 left.
After two free throws by Brown, John Wilkins’ jumper gave Illinois State a 61-60 lead. However Siva’s three-pointer on the ensuing possession gave Louisville the lead for good. The senior point guard scored seven of UofL’s final nine points, including a pair of free throws with 18 seconds remaining.
Illinois State had two shots to tie the game. Brown air-balled a fall-away three-pointer with 8 seconds left, but then got a second chance after the Redbirds got the rebound and threw it back out. Brown pump-faked, getting Behanan in the air, but no foul was called as he leaned into the sophomore forward and launched a wild shot as time expired.
“I think he leaned into him and threw it up,” Pitino said of Brown’s shot.
“It’s a tough call,” Siva added. “We feel like they made the right call, but I’m pretty sure they feel like it was the wrong call,” Siva said.
Smith finished with 24 points, three assists and three steals, while Siva tallied 20 points and four assists. While Smith was 6 of 17 from the field and 11 for 14 from the free throw line, Siva was 7 of 13 from the field, including 4 of 9 from three-point range.
“I always tell Chane that ‘you reap what you sow.’ That young man (Siva) worked on his jump shot and worked on his jump shot. If you look at Peyton’s arc and his form it reminds me of the James Southerland kid from Syracuse. Peyton has worked really hard on his shooting and it is good because Russ is not a great three-point shooter. So now Russ is penetrating and Peyton goes away to the three-point line, and that improvement really helped us today.”
Behanan added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Cards, who outrebounded the Redbirds 33-30.
The Cards next play at the College of Charleston at 9 p.m. Tuesday night. The Cougars (4-2), who return four starters from a team that went 19-12 last season, beat Baylor 63-59 in Waco, Texas on Nov. 24.