Stop the presses on those “Empire Classic Third Place Champions” shirts.
For the second straight day, the Louisville men’s basketball team appeared to be in position to pull off an upset against a big-name opponent inside Madison Square Garden. For the second straight day, the Cardinals fell short.
Louisville led Indiana by seven with less than eight minutes to play and by three heading into the game’s final segment. The Hoosiers then threw a zone at U of L which the Cardinals seemed to have zero plan to attack. A handful of hideous offensive possessions later, and IU was walking out of MSG with a 74-66 victory.
Indiana ended the game on a 13-2 run, and Louisville’s only basket in the game’s final 4:23 was a meaningless and uncontested Skyy Clark layup with 4 seconds to play.
The final segment, unfortunately, undid a lot of the goodwill that this team was poised to bring back with it from New York.
Louisville looked like the superior team for much of the third place game. JJ Traynor and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield fought valiantly against the Indiana frontcourt, the Cardinal defense limited the Hoosiers to just one made three-pointer, and freshman guard Ty-Laur Johnson completely took over the game for a glorious stretch midway through the second.
And yet, when the lights got the brightest, the team wilted … and did so in a manner so significantly that it’s difficult in this moment to remember the good that preceded it.
Positive steps were taken in New York, there’s no doubt. Now it’s up to these players and coaches to make them mean something.