LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The second act of Louisville’s Chris Mack era produced the same outcome as the first, but this time the Cardinals came away with a much better showing.
Jordan Nwora scored a career-high 20 points as the Cardinals (2-0) easily dominated Southern 104-54 Tuesday night. Malik Williams also posted a career high of 17 points in the rout.
After Nicholls State stayed close with Louisville in last week’s season opener, Mack used the practices to toughen up his players in preparation for a schedule that includes eight games against teams ranked in the AP’s preseason top 10. Mack saw improvement on both sides of the court as the Cardinals shot 58.2 percent and forced 23 turnovers.
“The three practices that we had leading up to tonight really set the tone,” he said. “I really think you earn the right to win and you earn your victories in practice because that’s who you become on game night.”
Southern coach Sean Woods said he noticed a marked difference from the team he observed in game film.
“Handling pressure, making shots, executing high-low situations, so I tip my hat off to coach Mack because he’s been working on getting his guys better,” Woods said.
One of the players Mack wanted to see improve was Nwora. The sophomore forward came off the bench and scored 15 points in the first half. He provided an immediate spark, scoring a layup off a Jaguars turnover just two seconds after checking in. He later got frontcourt steals on consecutive possessions that he turned into back-to-back dunks, the latter of which made it 21-9 with 11:32 remaining.
Louisville kept pulling away throughout the game, leading by as many as 53 points in the final minute. Mack used 13 players, with none playing more than 22 minutes. A dozen Cardinals ended up scoring.
“After the last game, I don’t think a lot of people were happy with our performance, especially not the coaches,” said Nwora, who made 7-of-11 shots. “We just had to get better, and that’s the way he woke us up. Just having some drills in practice that really brought out the toughness in some guys.”
Aaron Ray led the Jaguars (0-3) with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Southern: Facing its third major conference foe in a week, the Jaguars again struggled as they shot just 39.1 percent. They also had a hard time keeping up with bigger, more athletic Cardinals. By halftime, Southern committed 21 fouls, with two players picking up four each. The Jaguars finished getting whistled for 39 fouls. Three players fouled out, with four more drawing four each.
Louisville: The Cardinals looked much more at ease Tuesday after struggling in their season opener. In addition to the practices, it may have been due to the size advantage Louisville enjoyed over the Jaguars, who did not start anyone taller than 6-foot-7. Louisville outrebounded Southern 37-22 and enjoyed a 38-20 scoring advantage in the paint.
LOCKER ROOM CLOSED
Prior to the game, Louisville announced its locker room would be closed for postgame interviews, per Mack’s decision. The program had been one of the few to allow locker room access during the regular season. The NCAA maintains an open locker room policy during the March tournament.
Tuesday marked the return of Akoy Agau to the Cardinals. The graduate transfer from Southern Methodist played 22 games for the Cardinals before leaving the program in late 2014 to play for Georgetown. The 6-foot-8 forward scored seven points and tied Nwora with a team-high seven rebounds against the Jaguars.
Southern travels to Fairfax, Va., for a Saturday game at George Mason as part of the Emerald Coast Classic.
Louisville concludes a three-game, season-opening homestand on Friday when it hosts Vermont.