Louisville pulls away in second half en route to third win in as many days

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino wasn't looking for pretty, not from a team playing its third game in three days.

Good thing, because he didn't get it during the Cardinals' 78-56 victory over Lamar on Monday night in the Marques Maybin Classic.

There were missed free throws and missed opportunities, but then again, things could be worse.

A week ago the Cardinals (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) were smarting from an upset loss to Western Kentucky that briefly knocked them out of the top 10. Winning three games in a span of 60 hours by an average of 32 points isn't exactly bad by comparison.

"I thought we made great progress, but we still have a long way to go," Pitino said. "There is no excuse for some of our guys missing free throws ... but I still thought we brought it defensively."

Freshman Samardo Samuels scored 15 points and event MVP Earl Clark added six points, six rebounds and five assists for Louisville (5-1), which used its length to frustrate Lamar's smaller, quicker guards.

"I think we got a lot out of these three games because we played three different styles," Clark said. "The young guys had a chance to get rid of nervousness. I think we're coming together as a team."

Louisville had won its previous two games in the round-robin tournament by a combined 75 points. Things weren't quite so easy against Lamar, which hung around until late in the second half before Samuels and Clark helped Louisville pull away.

"Earl was just waking up about the 11-minute mark," Pitino said. "We got him out of his coffin."

It was more than enough to hold off Lamar.

Jay Brown had 16 points and eight rebounds and Kenny Dawkins added 14 points for Lamar (6-3), which was held to a season-low point total and shot 35 percent from the field.

"They do a lot of things and they put a lot of pressure on you," Lamar coach Steve Roccaforte said. "We had a hard time executing on offense with their pressure. I thought our guys played hard from start to finish but we really couldn't get anything going. They are very good."

The Cardinals had overwhelmed Ohio and Indiana State in easy victories on Saturday and Sunday, but Lamar proved to be a tougher out.

While Lamar had even more reason to be exhausted -- playing its fourth road game in six days -- the Southland Conference school seemed to be plenty fresh for the game's first 35 minutes.

A night after playing what Pitino called its best game of the season in a rout over Ohio, his team wasn't quite as sharp. The Cardinals forced passes, missed easy shots and couldn't convert at the free throw line. Louisville was 13-of-24 at the line and turned it over 14 times.

"Coach tells us we still need a lot of work," Clark said. "We have to get smarter. We're playing physical. We have to play better mentally."

Lamar's speed allowed it to keep it interesting well into the second half and put together a 9-2 run that closed the gap to 55-42 with 8:43 remaining, forcing an irate Pitino to call a timeout.

Louisville responded with a 15-4 burst featuring Samuels. The talented rookie made two layups during the run and, even better, took an offensive charge for the second straight game. He dug and took a hit from Lamar's Skyler Williams, got the call and then bounded up as Pitino applauded.

"Samuels is playing great for a freshman," Pitino said. "I want to see him get above the rim and challenge shots. He challenges shots below the rim. All the freshmen are going to get better."

Watching Samuels hit the deck allowed Pitino to crack one of the few smiles he could afford during a somewhat sloppy second half. Louisville threw away several opportunities to blow the game wide open as several Cardinals got a little too fancy while running the break.

Still, Louisville's depth was just a little too much. All 13 Louisville players saw time and all but one scored.

"Most people don't play more than eight or nine guys and they keep running guys at you, pressing and running," Roccaforte said. "It makes it very tough."

The three-day event is named for Maybin, a former Louisville star who was paralyzed below the waist following a motorcycle accident in 2003. Maybin watched the game from a seat along the baseline near the Louisville bench and received a standing ovation when introduced in the second half.

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