CINCINNATI — Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy's day started off with chaos and ended with contrition, but not victory.
Louisville's do-everything forward Earl Clark made sure of that.
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Clark had career highs of 25 points and 16 rebounds and the ninth-ranked Cardinals held off the Rebels 77-68 on Thursday night, hours after Kennedy's arrest following an altercation with a cab driver.
"I'm not going to lie, it's been a difficult 24 hours," Kennedy said.
A former assistant and interim head coach at Cincinnati, Kennedy was arrested Thursday morning and charged with first-degree misdemeanor assault after a cab driver said Kennedy punched him and called him "bin Laden."
Kennedy entered a written not guilty plea on Thursday afternoon and a pretrial date was set for Jan. 16. Kennedy decided to coach after meeting with university officials. He received a warm ovation after being introduced.
Clark made sure it was the highlight of Kennedy's night.
Dominating at both ends of the court at times, Clark helped the Cardinals (7-1) hold off a valiant rally by the Rebels (7-4) to win their fifth straight.
"(Clark) had to be Superman for us tonight and he was," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said.
Samardo Samuels added nine points and 13 rebounds and Terrence Williams had seven points, 11 rebounds and four assists as Louisville held the Rebels to one field goal over the final 7:31.
"It was an easy game that we could have lost," Clark said. "We could have hung our heads and started pointing the finger and not be intense. But we stuck with it and played defense and got stops at the end of the game."
The Cardinals needed the stops after the Rebels rallied from an 18-point deficit behind guards David Huertas and Chris Warren. Huertas scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half, and Warren added 18, including a three-pointer that tied the game at 67 with 5:31 to play.
It would be Mississippi's last field goal as Louisville closed the game with a 10-1 run. Clark started it with a layup, Edgar Sosa followed with a three-pointer and Louisville's defense made it hold up.
"We made some smart plays down the stretch," Pitino said.
The Cardinals swarmed Huertas and Warren, fighting through screens to force rushed shots. Things got even worse for the Rebels in the final minute when Warren left the game after injuring his left knee.
Kennedy said Warren may have damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee, bad news for a team that has already lost guards Trevor Gaskins and Eniel Polynice to season-ending injuries.
Louisville played without assistant coach Steve Masiello, whose father Steve Sr. died of a heart attack earlier this week. Pitino said he would attempt to attend a wake for Masiello Sr. in New York on Friday then fly to Phoenix to join the team.
Cincinnati 75, Mississippi St. 63: Deonta Vaughn's four fabulous minutes were enough for Cincinnati.
Vaughn led a crushing first-half run, and the Bearcats had one of their best games from behind the three-point arc, setting up a victory over Mississippi State in the first of two games in the SEC-Big East Invitational.
Cincinnati (8-2) made a season-high 12 three-pointers, nine in the first half against Mississippi State's zone defense. Vaughn had four threes during the run that made the difference.
"They're kind of streaky," Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury said. "They didn't make very many in the first 13 or 14 minutes. They finished the half with four or five in the last five minutes. That's what happens when you get on a roll like that. That's not unusual for him."
Jarvis Varnado scored a career-high 24 points for Mississippi State (7-4).
Vaughn led the 20-2 run that closed the first half and put the Bearcats ahead 47-29. Vaughn made four three-pointers and a driving bank shot in the spurt, scoring 14 points in 4 minutes. He finished with 16 points and six assists.
The lead reached 22 early in the second half, when Mississippi State went to a man-to-man defense and got back in the game. Cincinnati opened the second half 2-for-9 from the field with four turnovers.
Varnado led a 12-point run that cut the deficit to 55-48 midway through the second half, but the Bulldogs got no closer.