(Photo of Carlik Jones: Scott Utterback/Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The 7:06 mark of the second half of Saturday's game against Duke was a pivotal moment for the Louisville Cardinals. Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt, who up to that point in time had poured in 20 points for the Blue Devils, committed his fourth foul when he hacked redshirt freshman forward Jae'Lyn Withers.
After Withers was able to connect on both ensuing free throws, Louisville guard Carlik Jones saw an opportunity. While Hurt was not nearly as effective in the second half as he was in the first, he was still a threat, and one that had to be contained if Louisville had a shot to pull through with the victory.
From that point on, the graduate transfer from Radford went out of his way to drive on the Duke forward, in an attempt to either capitalize on Hurt's efforts to not foul out, or perhaps draw his fifth foul to bounce him from the game.
"Coach (Chris) Mack just knowing the game and seeing that (Hurt) had four fouls, I thought that me being aggressive, and maybe him being careful, that I might let him make this shot or lay this shot up because he didn't want to get his fifth (foul)," Jones said after the game. "Or I'd be aggressive and go at him, and make him commit a foul. That was kind of one of our goals.'
It was this aggressive mindset down the stretch that meant the difference between winning and losing for the Cardinals. From Hurt's fourth foul onward, Jones would score 11 of Louisville's next 13 points, including sinking 9 of his final 10 free throw attempts.
On the other end, Hurt would score just four more points before fouling out with 1:50 left in the game, in which Jones then scored Louisville's final eight points to secure a 70-65 win over Duke. In total, Jones tied with Hurt for a game-high 24 points, including 19 in the second half.
"Second half, it just seems like it's a time where it's like, 'alright, it's really time to go'. I kind of look at it as: alright, the first 20 minutes are out of the way. We got 20 minutes left to give your all and do whatever you can to come out victorious, and that's kind of how I approach I kind of take on it." Jones said.
The former Big South Player of the Year might have connected on just six of his 15 field goal attempts, but made up for it by making all but one of his 12 free throws. Oh, and it he did it while playing all 40 minutes of the game. Even with the potential of having to deal with fatigue, head coach Chris Mack knew that Jones would not let him down.
"I don't worry about Carlik in the pivotal moments of the game," he said. "He's a gamer, he's been that way his whole life, and this level, this stage, doesn't affect that."
Jones was also complimentary of fellow guard David Johnson, and for good reason. Despite being four inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Hurt, Johnson was made his primary defender after halftime, and held him to just nine second half points, as well as a twelve minute scoreless stretch.
"Dave showed some heart. He was the definition of heart, and (showed) that size doesn't really matter. David made him work for everything from post-ups to catches," Jones said. "I felt like David just showed a lot of toughness and heart, and made him work for everything. I felt like with the difference that David was playing on him, he wasn't going to be able to win the game for them with those tough shots."
Regardless of who is truly accredited for the victory, Jones knows how big the win was for the program moving forward. Not only does it break a two-game losing streak, during which the Cardinals looked mostly listless, but it shows what the program is truly capable of.
"(It's) very important," he said. "It kind of lets me know, as a captain and our team as a whole, what we're capable of. To kind of get that monkey off our back with the two losses, and it just shows that we're still a good team. Everyone takes losses. And just keep fighting for one another."
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