BY MIKE RILEY
Louisville coach Rick Pitino warned his team before Saturday’s game against Illinois State that the Redbirds were a dangerous team and very capable of handing the No. 5 ranked Cardinals a defeat on their home floor.
Maybe they listened. Maybe they didn’t.
Regardless, after Louisville trailed 14-2 in the early going and by as much as 13 before halftime, it took two Peyton Siva free throws with 18.4 seconds left to allow Louisville to escape the KFC Yum! Center with a 69-66 victory.
Yes, this was the same Louisville squad that thumped Missouri and took No. 2 Duke to the wire last week in the Bahamas.
“Well, we felt that it was going to be that type of game,” Pitino said. “We’ve all seen [Butler’s] Brad Stevens and [Virginia Commonwealth’s] Shaka Smart the last few years, but for a first-year guy, [Illinois State coach] Dan Muller is one of the brightest guys I’ve seen in a long time. They play hard defensively and they play very smart.
“They outplayed us. We played really hard, but they had answers for everything we put at them.”
Louisville (6-1) got the game’s opening basket but then went cold — allowing the Redbirds to score 14 straight points — until a dunk by Russ Smith at the 12:06 mark. The Cardinals trailed 33-25 at halftime as Illinois State (5-2) outshot the Cardinals 58 percent to 42.
Opening the second half with a 12-2 run, Louisville tied the score at 35 on a basket by Siva, who then got an assist on a basket from Chane Behanan to give the Cardinals the lead.
Louisville again trailed by as many as six and were down 57- 51 when Siva and Smith ignited a 9-0 Louisville run. The Redbird’s last lead came at 61-60 with 4:25 left, but this one went down to the wire.
Louisville led 67-66 with 43 seconds left when Behanan went to the line, where he missed both attempts. He quickly redeemed himself at the defensive end as he blocked a shot by Jackie Carmichael, then grabbed the rebound w hich led to the two Siva f ree throws for the final margin.
Illinois State had one last shot at it, actually more than one as Tyler Brown airballed a 3-pointer with eight seconds left, but Bryant Allen saved the ball back in to Carmichael, who took the ball back out, again giving it to Brown. Brown’s 3 was off the mark at the buzzer. Despite some obvious contact by Behanan, no foul was called.
Smith led Louisville with 24 points. Siva added 20, 10 of those coming after he re-entered the game after picking up his fourth foul with 13:09 left.
“Siva got really hot there and made some shots and that hurt us,” Muller said . “I’m very proud of my team but disappointed at how it ended. We don’t come for moral victories.”
Behanan added 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but was only 1-of-7 from the free throw line.
But maybe the most significant contribution came from reserve Stephan Van Treese. Van Treese, forced into action with the injury to Gorgui Dieng, came off the bench to play 34 minutes, going 3-of-3 from the floor, scoring eight points and grabbing eight rebounds. His effort at the defensive has given him the nickname "Big Hustle."
“I’ve heard that,” Van Treese said. “I like it.”
“Stephan is a warrior,” Pitino said. “Everyday (in practice) these guys are tired of him. He gave us a big lift when we needed it.”
Brown led Illinois State with 25 points. Carmichael added 20 and nine rebounds.
“What you saw tonight — that’s us,” Brown said. “We like to hit you in the mouth first . You’re going to get everything we’ve got.”
“It was a good game,” Muller said. “They are one of the best teams in the country. I’ll have to take a look at that last play. It would have been nice if Tyler had gotten those fr ee throws. That’s a tough call live. But we’ll use this and get better for it.”
Louisville will return to action Tuesday night when they travel to College of Charlestown.
“The game Tuesday will be exactly like this one,” Pitino said.
And you can bet the Cardinals are listening.