Then came the boom.
The Cardinals outscored Charleston 22-3 over the final 6:41 to pull away to a 70-48 victory in the first game of its national championship defense.
“Our quality, that ‘boom’ quality that we had last year came out again in the second half because we played like starving dogs,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw it when Louisville shook off the grief of losing teammate Kevin Ware to a broken leg and ripped off a 13-2 second-half run that pushed the Cardinals to the Final Four.
“I thought we had a chance there, and then, boom,” Krzyzewski said after the Midwest Regional final. “That’s what they do to teams.”
Louisville pulled off similar comebacks against Wichita State and Michigan to earn the school’s third national title in April. They unveiled the championship banner for those efforts before Saturday’s game but were shaky at the start following the ceremony that Pitino wrapped up.
“We are very much like the Green Bay Packers. We are owned by our fans,” he said, choked up in the moment.
Preseason All-America Russ Smith led Louisville with 21 points and five assists. He said while the pregame pageantry was “special” it “threw everything out of rhythm.”
“We just had to kind of kick the rust off,” Smith said. “I’m kind of happy we got back into playing the way we know how to play.”
SOUTH CAROLINA 82, LONGWOOD 44
In Columbia, Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson had a career high 18 points in his South Carolina debut and freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell added 14 points to lead the Gamecocks to their 13th consecutive opening game victory.
Johnson was granted a waiver by the NCAA this week to play immediately instead of after the first semester and was in the starting lineup. He scored the team’s first bucket and went on to surpass his previous high of 14 points set for the Wildcats against Connecticut in February 2012.
The Gamecocks took control of the Lancers with a 19-4 run in the final five minutes before halftime to lead 37-15 at the break.
Brenton Williams added 14 points for the Gamecocks while Michael Carrera had 12 points and nine rebounds.
USC UPSTATE 64, VIRGINIA TECH 63
In Blacksburg, Va., Babatunde Olumuyiwa’s inside basket with 1:52 to play broke a 62-all tie and USC Upstate made it stand up, beating Virginia Tech.
The Spartans won for the first time in eight games against a school from the Atlantic Coast Conference as Ty Green scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and Torrey Craig added 13 points.
The Hokies got 18 points from Jarell Eddie, but only three came after halftime. Cadarian Raines scored 17 in the second half.