LOUISVILLE, Ky. — David Johnson felt relief as Louisville emerged with a tension-filled victory over No. 19 Virginia Tech.
Johnson scored 17 points, including a crucial free throw with five seconds left, and Louisville withstood a missed 3-point try at the buzzer, holding off No. 19 Virginia Tech 73-71 Wednesday night in a matchup of unbeaten Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
The Cardinals (8-1, 3-0) led 47-33 early in the second half before Tech closed within 72-71 on Keve Aluma’s two free throws with 6.6 seconds left. Johnson was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play and missed the second of two free throws, giving the Hokies (8-2, 2-1) a final chance. Tech quickly pushed the ball upcourt to Hunter Cattoor on the left side, but his long 3-point attempt bounced off the rim as time expired, allowing Louisville to escape with first place.
“I was thinking, do not foul, and someone’s got to stop the ball,” Johnson said of the final seconds. “He got the shot off, too close. We’ve got to work on things like that.”
Said Virginia Tech Mike Young, “Johnson is a really good player and gave us a break missing that second foul down two. (Jalen) Cone was running in front of me, he came off a little rub action at the top with Keve (Aluma) not contested. He (Cattoor) missed the shot. Move on.”
Johnson made 5 of 10 shots from the field and 5 of 6 from the line. Carlik Jones scored 17 points and Jae’Lyn Withers finished with 16 points and a career-high 12 rebounds for Louisville, which won its fourth consecutive game overall and 17th in a row against the Hokies.
This one was a lot harder than Cardinals coach Chris Mack wanted.
“We beat a really good team that I thought played well,” he said. “Mike (Young) may disagree, but I thought they played well. They didn’t lay an egg. I think we’re growing up.”
Cone made six 3-pointers on the way to 23 points and Nahiem Alleyne added 15 points for the Hokies, who had their four-game winning streak snapped.
DOUBLE THE FUN
Withers recorded his first career double-double and was on pace to top his career scoring high of 20 points, set against Prairie View A&M. He was 6 of 12 from the field with two steals and a block.
“Right off the tip, I was in attack mode,” said Withers, who helped Louisville win the boards 37-30 and paint points 30-20. “It starts in practice, maybe from the initial drill or first play of the game. Just mentally more in tune, I guess you could say.”
Virginia Tech rallied impressively, but might need to beat Notre Dame to avoid falling out of the rankings.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies started quickly before soon having to catch up to Louisville’s faster tempo on both ends. Tech started 1 of 11 in the second half before Cone’s perimeter shooting helped close the gap. Shooting ultimately made the difference as the Hokies finished 9 of 30 from long range and shot 43% overall.
Louisville: The Cardinals trailed 11-0 before a quick timeout changed everything. The Cardinals emerged energized and answered with a 9-0 run and commanded the pace. They wobbled down the stretch but held on with timely free throws from Johnson and Quinn Slazinski (10 points), who made one of two with 1:23 left.
Virginia Tech hosts Notre Dame on Sunday night in the first of two games in three days. No. 21 Duke visits on Tuesday.
Louisville plays next Wednesday (Jan. 13) at Wake Forest after the ACC postponed Saturday’s scheduled home game against Georgia Tech following positive tests and quarantining within the Yellow Jackets’ program.