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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Louisville rallies to beat North in NIT opener

The Evening News and the Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind. — Josh Cook The Evening News and the Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind.

March 14--LOUISVILLE -- For 20 minutes Tuesday night, it appeared that Louisville, still smarting from its NCAA snub, was playing in the No Incentive Tournament.

However the Cardinals came to life in the second half, rallying from a seven-point deficit for a 66-58 win over Northern Kentucky in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament in front of 9,974 fans at the KFC Yum! Center.

Junior forward Deng Adel scored a game-high 20 points -- 16 in the second half -- while sophomore guard Ryan McMahon, who on Monday liked tweets that were critical of Louisville interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra and the decision to play in the NIT, tallied 10 points off the bench for Louisville (21-13).

"I think the way they played tonight answers any questions about whether or not they were ready, or interested, in playing this game," interim Cardinals coach David Padgett said. "I think that was pretty evident. They've been resilient all year and they did again today. That's just how they are as people, that's just how they are as basketball players and they show it day-in and day-out."

Junior forward Ray Spalding added seven points and 13 rebounds in a reserve role while senior point guard Quentin Snider scored nine for Louisville, which improved to 15-14 all-time in the NIT.

"We were definitely disappointed [about not making the NCAA Tournament], but we just knew we had to get ready for Northern Kentucky," Snider said. "The outlook was, we've just got to keep playing and try to go as far as we can in the NIT."

The second-seeded Cards will host third-seeded Middle Tennessee (25-7) -- a 91-64 winner over Vermont on Tuesday -- in a second-round game at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Yum! Center.

A little more than 48 hours after learning it had been excluded from the NCAA Tournament, Louisville started off well, jumping out to an 8-3 lead, in its first NIT game since 2006. However the upstart Norse, in only their second season of Division I eligibility, went on a 9-3 surge to take their first lead.

The Cards edged back ahead 16-15 at the end of the first quarter, but Northern outscored Louisville 15-7 in the second quarter, when the hosts were an abysmal 2-for-15 (13.3 percent) from the field.

The Cards rallied in the second half behind their defense. After forcing only three turnovers in the first half, Louisville turned up the heat on D after intermission.

"We got some deflections and some steals there and it got us out on the break. We converted a couple easy ones, and then the crowd gets in the game," said Padgett, whose team forced 11 miscues in the second half. "We were really active with our hands tonight. We did a good job of challenging shots. We knew they were going to take a lot of 3s and we did a good job of challenging them. We just did a good job of getting in passing lanes and just being active and it allowed us to get out on the break and not having to be in a set every time down."

A 13-0 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth turned the tide in Louisville's favor.

The surge began with an Adel shot off the glass and was highlighted moments later by 6-foot-2 freshman point guard Darius Perry's one-hand slam over Northern's Lavone Holland II.

"Darius's dunk really changed the game," Snider said. "I've seen him do that in practice, sometimes he misses it and sometimes he makes it. It was a nice dunk for him, it might be [SportsCenter's] Top 10."

McMahon hit a long 3 to start the fourth quarter, then moments later, finished off a fast break with a pretty, high-banking scoop layin that ignited the crowd, which was pretty strong throughout the game. Perry followed with a layup, then VJ King capped the run with a pair of free throws.

The Norse couldn't get closer than five the rest of the way.

Junior forward Drew McDonald had a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds for Northern Kentucky (22-10), which outscored Louisville 34-26 in the paint. Holland, a Louisville native and former high school teammate of Snider, added 15 points for the Norse, who shot 34.4 percent (22 for 64) in defeat.

"In the first half, we just couldn't hit shots," Snider said. "The second half we got deflections, got steals, got out running on the break, we started getting momentum going and that's how we got our baskets."

The Cards shot 60.9 percent in the second half, including 69.2 percent (9 for 13) in the decisive third quarter.

"We were resilient in the second half like these guys have been all year, so I wasn't surprised by that," Padgett said. "We finally got some shots to fall. We just didn't get in a rhythm there in the first half for whatever reason, but we did a good job in the second half of attacking the rim, getting ballside and kicking it out and taking really good shots. And we defended well."


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