RALEIGH, N.C. - Thanks to a pair of clutch three-pointers in the final two minutes at NC State, Louisville was able to come out on top with a win in their first game against ACC competition.
Here's what head coach Chris Mack, forward Matt Cross and forward/center Malik Williams had to say following the win:
Head Coach Chris Mack
Well, thrilling first game here in the ACC. I think we took NC State's best punch there in the first 12 minutes of the second half. We talked over and over in the locker room about sustaining that effort on the defensive end. But our inability to take care of the ball in the first six, seven minutes, and combine that with their downhill approach, really hurt us. It allowed them to get back in the game and ultimately take the lead. But I thought our fortitude, our toughness level rose during that time. We became a better team, a team that went through the fire in the course of this game. To be able to like go down five, in front of their fans and in a raucous building, be able to pull one out at the end, I'm really proud of our group. Individually, Malik (Williams) gave, by far, his best effort of the year. On both ends of the floor, we consciously played him in three, four minutes spurts so that he could always be at his best, and not sort of wither as time went on. I thought Dre (Davis), as the game went on, got better and better. He didn't start off very well. Same with Jae'Lyn (Withers). He's got to start doing more for us. We hit some big shots: Noah Locke's 25 footer, and obviously Matt (Cross)'s at the end. A ways to go, but to come on the road and do what we did - 14 offensive rebounds, limit our turnovers to a team that really pushes you in that area, gave us an opportunity to win.
(On what the play call was for Matt Cross' game-winning three)
Matt has the ability to make tough shots. It was good to see our basketball go in from three tonight. That play, we stole from Brad Stevens years ago. We actually call it 'Butler'. It's designed for end of the game type situations, got a few other options and a few other plays as well. But with only two seconds left on the shot clock, we posted Matt on the ball side block, and set a back screen with our point guard, knowing that if they did switch, you can still probably - if it's a good pass, and it was a great pass by Dre - probably win that jump ball. They got confused and weren't sure what to do with the screen. Matt just sort of filtered back out to the three point line, probably could have shot a 12 footer, but opted to put it to a three point margin, which made his coach fell very, very good. Great execution by our guys in a very clutch moment.
(On Matt Cross' hustle in the game)
I'll tell you what, you saw it. When we talk about game winning plays, this guy laying out on - not even 50/50 balls, it's more like 40/60, and looks like it was going to them. We had a couple guys do that. But man, that was a huge play by Matt, huge plays. He's a tough kid. He is not afraid to run in there and rebound. He did it at the most opportune times, and so probably fitting (for him to hit the game-winner), that doesn't usually happen that it works out that way, but good for him. The good thing was, it wasn't like he was on fire for the majority of the game. He's making a lot of those hustle plays maybe when things weren't going great for him offensively. But big shot by him at the end.
(On hanging in the game despite the offense's lackluster start to the second half)
We hung in there, but let's not kid ourselves. We had we had a really good margin, and I think at one point they scored on 10 of 11 positions. They were attacking downhill. We made a few errors that we can't make. Fouling three point shooters is never the right answer, ever. It's the most egregious thing you can do, and they end up scoring six points off of it. Conventional four point play. The thing that I loved seeing was when we did get down five, and it seemed like everybody in the building was against us, our guys managed to get stops at that time, and have the poise on offense to either get fouled or get a shot, hustle on offensive glass and not just sort of give in. It shows competitive character that we have with our group, because NC State's and talented and tough team to stop, especially with the momentum they had.
(More on Matt Cross' hustle)
He's loved by his teammates. He gives incredible effort. He's just a tough kid. He wins. He prides himself on being a guy that plays like Larry Bird. Being that I grew up and watched Larry Bird every chance I got as a kid - I mean, I wish he was 6-foot-9 and shot a little bit better around the rim like Bird, but Matt's a hell of a player. He makes those type of plays, and you can see why that guy was his idol with the way that Matt plays.
(On the rationale with giving so many minutes to Gabe Wiznitzer)
A few things go into it. First, he was right there as Malik's backup when he got hurt. Now, having said that, it wasn't by a wide margin. He had the benefit of experience from his freshman year, that Syd (Sydney Curry) and Rose (Roosevelt Wheeler) didn't have, and those two made quantum leaps during that time. When Gabe was out, they got through their shot. But we need continual improvement, all of our bigs, and that includes Malik. They're not where we want them to be, period. The one thing that Gabe brings to the table, is he has a great understanding of screening angles, re-screening, and that frees our guys to get up into the lane. If we get into the crease of the defense, and we make people help, we're going to be a better offensive team. I've talked about that - paint touches. Even though Gabe might not be touching it in the paint, he's freeing up guys to do so. Rose and Syd hves to get better at that. Now, they're better finishers than Gabe. Every guy has strengths, every guy has weaknesses. We need those weaknesses getting shored up and improving, and there's not a whole lot of margin. It could go game-to-game on who's gonna back up Malik, depending on how well guys are improving, and what the game sort of calls for with the matchup, and how the other team offensively plays and defensively plays.
(On if he liked what Malik Williams was mixing up offensively)
It's not his his choice of when to, it depends on the spacing we have on the floor. It's well coached, it's well thought out, it's well drilled. When Malik pops, and he's supposed to roll, it hurts our spacing. It puts other guys in a position they're not sure what to do, because that's not how we practice. I know he wants to get out to the three point line from time to time, and I want him to do that. He can bring centers away But we also need him, again, to do the things I just described about Gabe. Malik is very well. It's 90/10, 80/20 sometimes, but we're getting there. And, you know, you also have to account for the fact he hasn't played in a year and a half.
Forward Matt Cross
Forward/Center Malik Williams
(Photo of Matt Cross: Sam Upshaw Jr. - Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK)
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