LOUISVILLE — Rick Pitino probably stressed the dangers of Seton Hall coming into Freedom Hall on Wednesday night, but truthfully the Pirates served as just a mere formality. There were only two real story lines that mattered to U of L: honoring the seniors and getting itself primed for a game at West Virginia on Saturday night that could decide the Big East championship.
Seton Hall did show some offensive weaponry, particularly early on, but the Pirates showed almost no resistance on defense. The Cards got all the clean looks they wanted and shot 54 percent en route to a 95-78 win.
Senior Terrence Williams had a nice Freedom Hall farewell, filling up the stat sheet with 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
It was also the final home game for junior forward Earl Clark, who will forgo his senior year and enter the NBA Draft. Clark responded with a career night of 27 points and 14 rebounds. Another senior, guard Andre McGee chipped in with 11 points.
"It was a terrific way to end these guys' last game," Pitino said. "It was a fun game for the fans and players, and all the guys leaving had great nights."
The Pirates came out firing in the game's early minutes, hitting seven of their first eight shots from the floor to take a 19-15 lead.
Clark had a breakaway slam at 12:18 to put U of L ahead 20-19, and the Cards rolled from there. Williams hit a pull-up jumper and scored off a Preston Knowles steal, and Knowles hit a three-pointer from the right wing to make it 31-24 Louisville.
After Edgar Sosa dropped it off to Williams for a dunk, the Cards were up 39-26. U of L led 51-40 at halftime.
Louisville went on a 9-0 spurt to start the second half and eventually built a 23-point lead (66-43) at 15:29. The Cardinals did have a momentary drought that aided a 13-2 run that got Seton Hall to within 12 (68-56) with 12:06 remaining, but the Pirates could do no further damage and U of L quickly extended the lead back to 22 (82-60) on a Jerry Smith three.
Robert Mitchell had 24 points to lead Seton Hall (15-14, 6-11), while Hazell scored 18 (4-for-13 on three-pointers).
"We just wanted to try and make it a game," Seton Hall Coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "We were going up against a lot tonight. It was Senior Night, and we beat them last year so I'm sure there was a little bit of a revenge factor. They're an elite team. They've got a lot of pieces, and they were clicking on all cylinders."
Seton Hall had no answer for Clark. Its starting power forward Robert Mitchell goes just 6-6, 180 compared to Clark's 6-9, 225.
"Their 'four' man was a little light in the waist, so I tried to get down low as much as I could," Clark said.
"The more Earl gets inside the more productive he is," Pitino said.
Louisville (24-5, 15-2) will now head to Morgantown Saturday for an ESPN showdown with the Mountaineers. If Pittsburgh beat UConn earlier that day, the Cards will take home their first-ever Big East trophy with a win.
"We know we have a tough challenge ahead of us, but we're looking forward to it," Pitino said.