LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Looking out of sorts following Ray Spalding’s exit with an ankle injury, No. 19 Louisville needed help to finish what the junior forward started against Saint Francis as a scorer and rebounder.
Deng Adel and Jordan Nwora stepped up to fill the scoring void with timely shots, and the Cardinals made timely defensive stops to survive.
Spalding had 19 points and a career-high 13 rebounds before leaving midway through the second half with an ankle injury, and Adel and Nwora each made key 3-pointers late as Louisville held off Saint Francis 84-72 on Friday night.
“I had a weird feeling it was going to be a game like that,” Louisville coach David Padgett said. “We are 4-0, the most important thing.”
Not before the Cardinals nearly lost a big lead.
Spalding’s layup provided a 66-44 lead with 12:38 remaining, but he walked slowly to the locker room several minutes later with the injury. Saint Francis took advantage of his absence with a 22-8 run over 8:09 to get within 74-66 before Nwora and Adel each answered with five points, including consecutive 3s nearly a minute apart for an 84-68 lead.
Anas Mahmoud made consecutive blocks during one sequence to help the Cardinals pull away.
“We played the score,” Mahmoud said. “We looked up, and we were up 20. We were like, ‘OK, we got this game.’ We gave up a lot of open 3s. They shot the ball very well. It is something we are going to have to work on.”
Spalding wasn’t available for comment afterward, but matched a career scoring high before exiting. He achieved his second double-double in a week and fourth of his career by halftime, adding a career-high five of the Cardinals’ seven blocks.
“Ray was a monster down there,” said Adel, who had 13 points. “He’s very versatile down there, gets a lot of steals and deflections.”
Fortunately for Louisville, others contributed.
Mahmoud had 12 points with nine rebounds, Quentin Snider had 11 points and Nwora and V.J. King 10 each for Louisville.
Keith Braxton had 25 points and 11 rebounds for the Red Flash (2-3), whose two-game winning streak was stopped. Saint Francis played its second game since leading scorer Isaiah Blackmon sustained a season-ending right knee injury.
Saint Francis: The Red Flash stayed close for much of the first half by matching Louisville 20-all on the glass and eventually winning that category 35-33. Ten 3-pointers also helped — five of which helped get them back in the game — and their bench outscored the Cardinals 20-19. But they were outscored 40-20 in the paint and committed 19 turnovers leading to 17 Louisville points. “When you give them 17 points off the turnovers — a lot of those turnovers led to layups and easy opportunities,” coach Rob Krimmel said. “Our margin for error in a game like this is very slim and that’s one of the things we challenged our guys on at halftime.”
Louisville: The Cardinals appeared headed to another easy win after their 42-point rout of Southern Illinois before Spalding’s exit changed things. They went nearly 5 minutes without a basket before Adel and Nwora made consecutive 3s to seize control. The Cards shot 52 percent in the second half and 48 percent overall.
Krimmel complimented his team’s resolve despite Blackmon’s absence, especially when the game seemed out of reach. “Our guys could have certainly hung their heads with 10 minutes to go down 20,” he said. “That could have very easily gone 30 or 40, but I was proud of the way they battled back and made it a game.”
Saint Francis hosts American University on Wednesday in the first of two more tuneups before visiting top-ranked Duke on Dec. 5.
Louisville hits the road for the first time to visit No. 18 Purdue on Tuesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Cardinals won last year’s Challenge meeting 71-64 but is 6-11 lifetime against the Boilermakers.