LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville’s latest rout was anything but routine.
The No. 2 Cardinals trailed in the second half for the first time this season against a determined USC Upstate squad that challenged them longer than expected. That scare got Louisville’s attention, and its response was fast and furious.
Ryan McMahon made consecutive 3-pointers and Dwayne Sutton and Darius Perry had one each during a second-half surge that rallied Louisville past USC Upstate 76-50 Wednesday night.
Trailing the determined Spartans 43-40 with 14:07 remaining, Sutton’s 3 tied it before McMahon added one after a huge block of Josh Aldrich’s layup attempt. McMahon and Perry followed again from long range, and the Cardinals (5-0) turned up the intensity on both ends for a 24-5 burst.
They outscored Upstate 36-7 to close the game, capped by the second of two dunks from freshman guard David Johnson in his collegiate debut following a summer shoulder injury.
“They are going to go up against a team that isn’t in awe and play as well as they can for periods of 10 minutes,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “Tonight was not as tough as a moment we will find ourselves in the next month or two, but it is good for a team to figure it out.”
Jordan Nwora had two 3s among his season-high 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting. The Cardinals finished 51% from the field and have shot above 50% in each game this season.
McMahon scored 15 points on five 3-pointers, his last ones helping Louisville avoid a huge upset. The Cardinals were 9 of 21 from behind the arc, including 5 of 9 after halftime. Sutton grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds and scored nine points.
“It shows the power of the 3-point shot in college basketball,” added Mack, whose team tied a season high with 22 assists. “It can keep you in any game.”
The Cardinals owned the smaller Spartans in just about every statistic as expected: They held Upstate to 33% shooting with a 40-22 gap in rebounding with a 36-10 scoring advantage in the paint.
Blowouts have been the norm for the Spartans, who entered losing by an average margin of nearly 21 points. That included Monday’s 31-point loss at Akron, which seemed forgotten as they stayed within reach and even led.
“We played 30 minutes of the best basketball we’ve played all year,” second-year coach Dave Dickerson said. “But their size and athleticism and the fact they have one of the best players in the country as well, it’s hard for us to contend with that. They wore us down.”
Bryson Mozone’s 14 points on four 3s led Upstate (1-5), which was 9 of 24 from long range.
Johnson and 6-foot-11 junior forward Malik Williams finally got on the court for Louisville after missing time with injuries. They combined for seven points and four rebounds, all big in helping the Cardinals pull away.
“It felt great, been itching to get out there and finally got to do it,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to get the win.”
There was one scary moment as Williams, who returned from September foot surgery, landed hard and awkwardly following a flagrant-1 foul by Mozone. He got up gingerly but shook it off and made 1 of 2 free throws.
“I wasn’t really scared,” Williams said. “I just put my foot back in place and get right back to it. I’m good. I’m here to stay.”
USC Upstate: The Spartans stayed close thanks to perimeter shooting and defense that forced the Cardinals into off-balance attempts. They just didn’t have enough height to battle on the glass and were no match once the Cardinals found their shot and intensity.
Louisville: The Cardinals led for much of the game despite appearing out of sync when Upstate kept making baskets. Their failure to contain Mozone could have cost them, but they also started making 3s to thwart the upset. The returns of Williams and Johnson from injuries helped in a comeback they didn’t expect and should help team depth.
The near-upset shouldn’t cost Louisville much in the rankings.
USC Upstate returns home Saturday to host Youngstown State, which Louisville beat 78-55 on Nov. 10.
Louisville hosts Akron on Sunday in the last of its five-game homestand.