LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — With his team trailing at halftime for only the second time this season, Louisville coach Chris Mack entered the locker room and told his players they only needed to make one fix.
“I try not to be that coach, but tonight it was called for: We aren’t playing hard enough,” Mack said after his Cardinals rallied to beat Robert Morris 73-59 Friday night. “So that’s the adjustment that we made. It was to tell them play harder or we’re going to lose the game.”
Jordan Nwora scored seven of his 19 points during a decisive 20-2 second-half run that allowed Louisville (9-3) to pull away from the Colonials (4-8). He made 7 of 12 shots and added 13 rebounds for his third double-double in the last four games. Steven Enoch added 16 points and Dwayne Sutton had 14.
Early on, the Colonials seemed prime to mount a big upset over their Atlantic Coast Conference hosts. At one point, they made 9 of 10 shots and used a 13-2 run to build a 28-17 lead with 6:02 left in the first half. Louisville rallied and even took a brief lead late in the half, but Robert Morris weathered the first run and took a 32-29 lead into halftime.
Despite trailing at the break, Nwora and Mack said they saw the effort improve late in the first half and that it was important to carry it over to the second half.
“We have to treat every game as the same,” the sophomore forward said. “Every game is important to reach our goal, and that’s to make the tournament. We needed to play hard to start the game, and we didn’t start the game hard.”
Mack was quick to praise the Colonials for their effort, but he also made sure to call out his own players. He said his staff noticed the players’ lackadaisical effort in warmups and that led to the slow start.
“We were playing uphill the entire game,” Mack said.
Charles Bain hit a 3-pointer with 17:53 left that extended the Colonials’ lead to 39-31, but it was all Cardinals from there as they shot 54.2 percent in the second half. Darius Perry’s 3-pointer gave the Cardinals the lead for good at 43-41 with 14:05 remaining.
The run put Louisville up 51-41 with 10:04 left. The Colonials never got closer than eight points the rest of the way as Louisville grew the lead to as many as 17 points.
Bain’s 18 points led the Colonials, who shot just 37.7 percent.
Louisville played without point guard Christen Cunningham, who was a late scratch from the starting lineup. Mack said the graduate transfer hit his head on the floor in practice Thursday and remained in the concussion protocol.
Despite playing no one taller than 6-foot-8, Robert Morris finished Friday with a season-high seven blocks. Malik Petteway swatted five of those, a career high for the senior forward.
Robert Morris: Despite entering Friday on a four-game losing streak, the Colonials led the Northeast Conference in scoring defense, allowing just 70.7 points a game. They used that defense to deny Louisville opportunities to attack the rim in the first half. While they played well for most of the contest, they simply could not last against a Power 5 team for a full 40 minutes.
Still, coach Andrew Toole took away the effort Friday as a positive.
“This is, I think, what we have been looking for as coaches,” he said. “Now the trick is: can we sustain it for a majority of the remainder of our season?”
Louisville: Without Cunningham, Louisville looked lost on both ends of the court before they went on the decisive run. If he misses any extended period, it could be costly for the Cardinals as the schedule only gets tougher from here.
Robert Morris: The Colonials end the nonconference portion of their schedule on Dec. 29, when they host Hood College, an NCAA Division III school from Frederick, Maryland.
Louisville: The Cardinals are also off until Dec. 29 when they host No. 19 Kentucky. Louisville has lost five of the last six games against its archrival.
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