Hokies Hang Tough, But Louisville Prevails
By HANK KURZ Jr. AP Sports Writer
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - When it's right, Damion Lee's shooting stroke is so sweet that some might describe it as a work of art.
It was just that Wednesday night when No. 16 Louisville needed all the help it could get to hold off a relentless Virginia Tech team at home.
"Definitely one of those nights," Lee said after hitting his first six 3-point shots, 11 of 12 free throws and scoring 29 points in a 91-83 victory against the Hokies. "Once you see it go in once, your confidence builds up."
Lee's early marksmanship eventually rubbed off on teammate Trey Lewis, who shot 4 of 7 on 3s and scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half, helping the defense-led Cardinals overcome a night when their most dominant inside player, Chinanu Onuaku, was a non-factor.
"We had to win this game on offense tonight because we were in such serious foul trouble," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said, a reference to Onuaku playing just 14 minutes before fouling out. "We did a great job making the extra pass, passing and shooting."
Lee, a graduate transfer from Drexel, had his most productive scoring game because he was patient and moved without the ball, Pitino said. Lewis, a transfer from Cleveland State, also matched his best game with the Cardinals, finishing 6 of 14 from the field overall.
"Lewis and Lee didn't make their reputations on defense," Pitino said.
The Cardinals (17-3, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have won four in a row.
Jalen Hudson scored 27 points, Seth Allen had 26 and Zach LeDay 20 for the Hokies (12-9, 4-4), who have dropped three in a row since a surprising 4-1 start to conference play. Virginia Tech stayed in the game by making 33 of 38 free throws, but allowed Lee to get going early and had trouble all night as the Cardinals shared the ball effectively. They finished with 19 assists and 27 field goals, including 12 3-pointers.
In recent games, the Hokies have struggled because of too many turnovers and allowing too many offensive rebounds, coach Buzz Williams said. Changing that against the Cardinals was an emphasis in practice, and Louisville turned to its 3-point game to adjust.
"I apologized to the team," Williams said, adding that he told his players they did everything he'd asked of them. "But man, they hit some great shots and those two graduate transfers were huge."
The Cardinals arrived with the nation's top field goal percentage defense (36.4 percent), and the second-stingiest scoring defense (58.8 points), but much of their interior presence was taken away quickly as the 6-foot-10 Onuaku was whistled for two quick fouls.
Onuaku was never much of a factor, but the Cardinals stepped outside to make up for it, continually breaking any momentum the crowd at Cassell Coliseum tried to encourage.
In the closing minutes, with the Hokies forced to foul, the Cardinals were on target from the line as well, preventing Virginia Tech from getting any closer than six down the stretch. Louisville finished 25 of 34 at the free throw line.
Jaylen Johnson had 11 points for Louisville. Justin Bibbs scored 10 for the Hokies.
Lee was 5 for 26 on 3-pointers in his previous four games, and Lewis was 3 for 21 in his last five.
WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK
The teams were called for a combined 54 personal fouls leading to 72 free throws. Three players fouled out, each in 15 minutes or fewer, and four others finished the game with four personal fouls.
Louisville: Onuaku arrived at Cassell Coliseum as the first Cardinals player in 22 years to record six consecutive double-doubles, but was whistled for two fouls in 3 minutes and sat out the rest of the first half. He fouled out with nine points and five rebounds.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies were 17 for 18 from the foul line and outscored Louisville 17-5 from the line in the first half. ... Only four Hokies scored, and the other five players that saw action combined to take just six shots.
Louisville is at home against No. 11 Virginia on Saturday.
Virginia Tech plays at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
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