LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville’s 1,800th victory was one for the books.
On a day when both teams were so hot from the field that Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams changed shirts at halftime, Donovan Mitchell scored 26 points to lead the eighth-ranked Cardinals past the Hokies 94-90 on Saturday.
Both Mitchell, a sophomore guard, and the Cardinals’ inside game stood out.
Mitchell connected on his first six shots, including three 3-pointers en route to going 8 for 13 from the field and 5 of 7 from the beyond the arc. He led an effort that saw Louisville (22-5, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) shoot 51.5 percent from the field and even better, 12 of 22, from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Cardinals needed that as Virginia Tech (18-8, 7-7) managed to shoot 59.2 percent from the field, including 65.4 percent (17 of 26) from beyond the arc. The Hokies, who set a KFC Yum! Center visitor’s record with their 90 points, also made the most 3-pointers against the Cardinals since they beat West Virginia in the 2005 Elite Eight.
“Every team is going to fight, even the teams who are at the bottom of the ACC are going to fight,” Mitchell said. “Everybody is fighting to make the tournament. We’re going to get every team’s best shot being a ranked team because if they beat a (ranked team) there is a good chance that will get them into the tournament.”
The difference ended up being the 19 extra shots the Cardinals got as they used the glass to their advantage. They outrebounded the Hokies 33-25, with 16 coming on the offensive end. That allowed Louisville to enjoy a 26-3 edge in second-chance scoring.
“I think if we don’t have a hot shooting night, they beat us by 40,” said Williams, wearing the orange Virginia Tech T-shirt he switched to in the second half after he sweated through his dress shirt. “I think the hot shooting night allowed it to be a game.”
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he hated to win solely on offense, but he also knew the Hokies, who played four guards, would present a challenge to the Cardinals. Nonetheless, he expects his team to learn from this win.
“If we don’t start playing better defense we’re all going (on) vacation early,” he said. “You guys are going to be covering someone else. If you’re impressed with that, you’re not watching the game I’m watching. But, that being said, it was a great win.”
Seth Allen led the Hokies with 25 points and Ty Outlaw had 19.
Quentin Snider finished with 19 points and Jaylen Johnson added 16 for Louisville.
Virginia Tech: By playing the Cardinals close on the road, the Hokies did little damage to their NCAA Tournament resume, but beating tough teams away from Cassell Coliseum remains a challenge for the Hokies. The last win against a ranked team on the road came against Clemson on Feb. 25, 2009.
Louisville: It wasn’t a pretty effort for the Cardinals, at least not defensively. However, Louisville gutted through another contest with a team many expect to go dancing next month and avoided a potential trap before playing North Carolina next week.
With the victory on Saturday, the Cardinals became the 10th program in history to reach 1,800 wins. In its 103rd season, Louisville’s record stands at 1,800-897.
While the performance might do a number on the Cardinals’ top-ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings, it should not do anything to their standing when the next AP poll comes out on Monday. Especially since the Hokies already have wins against both Duke and Virginia this season.
Virginia Tech returns home, where it will face Clemson on Tuesday night.
Louisville travels to North Carolina for Wednesday night in the teams’ only regular season matchup.