Smith's free throws save Louisville in win over Rutgers

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Louisville guard Russ Smith admittedly didn’t play well in the open court, but he compensated at the free throw line in the Cardinals' 83-76 win over Rutgers Saturday at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Smith led No. 14 Louisville (13-2) with 22 points, including 14 of 16 from the free throw line. He also committed an uncharacteristic five turnovers and recorded just one assist. Smith now has 1,501 points for his college career.

He rebounded from a shaky first half to score 15 of Louisville's final 23 points, 11 coming from the line. Louisville was 41 of 46 from the stripe – the most points it has scored in any conference game in school history. The previous mark was 39 against Virginia Tech in 1986.

Guard Myles Mack paced Rutgers (7-8) with 19 points before fouling out late in the game.

Swingman Craig Brown came off the Scarlet Knights bench to score a career-high 17 points in 23 minutes.

Louisville is now 12-1 lifetime against Rutgers and has won eight straight against the Scarlet Knights. Both schools were members of the Big East Conference before joining the American Athletic Conference. Louisville is 2-0 in its new conference. Rutgers is 1-1.

Saturday's meeting could be the last between the two schools for quite some time. Louisville joins the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, while Rutgers is headed to the Big Ten.

"I was hurting the team offensively and defensively," Smith admitted. "But I was glad to hit my free throws at the end of the game. I’m not going to play a perfect season, but if I could come through when my team needs me to come through, that’s all that matters.

"I forced the issue early on. I should have been moving the ball and let the game come to me, but I started bombing away."

Smith was 2 of 7 from the floor in the first half and finished 4 of 11.

"I think we did a very good job of coming back in the game with our press," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "In the beginning we got behind because we took some bad shots.

"Russ has had a great year. But tonight he had a very bad night because he shot us out in the beginning. He’s usually very unselfish."

Pitino's team forced 19 turnovers and registered 15 steals in recording its eighth win in their last nine games. Louisville ranks 11th in the nation in steals, averaging 9.6 a game.

Forward Luke Hancock came off the bench to score a season-high 15 points and was 10 of 10 from the line. His two free throws with 1:44 to play gave Louisville a 10-point lead at 73-63.

Rutgers cut the Louisville lead to seven points at 68-61 with 3:42 to play, but Louisville used a quick 3-0 run to go ahead 71-61 with 1:50 remaining.

The Cardinals opened up the second half on a 14-7 burst to grab a 54-40 advantage with 13:54 to play. Guard Chris Jones contributed six points in the run.

The Cardinals took their first lead of the half when forward Mangok Mathiang sank the second of two free throws to put Louisville ahead, 30-29, with 1:43 to go. That started a 9-3 run for Louisville, propelling it to a 39-33 halftime lead.

Guard Wayne Blackshear led the Cardinals with eight points in the half.

Mack felt the sting of Louisville's pressure the most for the Scarlet Knights, committing five of Rutgers' 12 first-half turnovers. Mack led Rutgers with 13 points in the half.

"I just thought Louisville had spurts in their pressure defense that just had us rattled," said Rutgers first-year coach Eddie Jordan. "They did a good job coming out and pursuing. They challenge you to finish.

"There are times to break the press and finish, then there are times to break the press and be organized and run the offense, and we got caught in between, not knowing which one to do."

Louisville didn't score its first basket of the game until nearly four minutes had elapsed, missing its first five attempts, and trailed 12-4 with 13:43 left in the first half.

NOTES: Louisville scored at least 90 points in four of its seven games in December. ... The Cardinals lead the nation in turnover margin (plus-8.2) and is sixth in fewest turnovers per game (9.6). ... The American Athletic Conference is the seventh league in which Louisville has been a member and its fourth conference in the last 20 years. ... The last time Rutgers played a defending national champion, it defeated UConn 67-60 on Jan. 7, 2012. ... Rutgers G Myles Mack is third in the conference in steals (2.1), fifth in assists (4.4) and eighth in scoring (16.1) and free throw percentage (.846).

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