DAYTON, Ohio — This time, the halftime margin was two points, not the nine points that Louisville led the first time it met Morehead State this season. That game became a U of L blowout on Nov. 22.
This time, the result was the same — a 21-point second half by the Eagles concluding with a 74-54 U of L victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night.
The reason this time was Louisville guard and defensive specialist Andre McGee, who sparked an 8-0 U of L run after halftime that started the tournament's No. 1 seed to victory at Dayton Arena. Before the Eagles scored their first points after the break, they had committed three turnovers and missed five shots. McGee was mainly responsible.
"Andre made us win," Cards Coach Rick Pitino said.
"It starts with Andre's defense, and everybody follows behind him," freshman center Samardo Samuels said. "He's the leader. We're trying to match his intensity on defense."
"His ego is team ego," Pitino said. "All his gratification comes from the team winning and the team working hard."
"You're hustling, getting steals, going down to the other end, getting easy points," said McGee, who finished with five steals. "It's like a dog smelling blood."
By the time the relentlessly hounded Eagles scored, it was four minutes in and the Louisville lead was in double figures. Within another minute, it stayed that way the rest of the game. The largest advantage was 19 points.
Asked about his pre-season conditioning that contributes to his skills in Pitino's pressing defense, McGee said, "You run yourself till you drop. We went hard on conditioning to play our style. We paid for it on the track."
In the first game against Louisville, Morehead Coach Donnie Tyndall said, "We crumbled in the second half because of their strength and athleticism and depth." The Eagles had much the same trouble Thursday night.
Morehead's shooting dropped from 44 percent to 32 percent. The Eagles made only one three-pointer and 12 turnovers. Louisville had a 29-17 advantage in points off turnovers for the game.
"What they try to do is wear you down and wear you down, and their depth and physicality and size allows them to do that," Tyndall said.
"The first half, when we were fresh, before we wore down a little bit, we played them basically possession for possession."
"We got a little tight"
"We didn't feel we had any pressure on us," said Morehead senior Leon Buchanan, the game's leading scorer with 17 points. "Halftime, we were feeling really good. We knew they would go on the run."
Buchanan said he and his teammates hoped to start the second half the way they began the game — with hustle and composure. It was different after the break.
"We got a little tight," Buchanan said. "We weren't loose like we came out at the beginning."
Center Kenneth Faried agreed with his teammate after his 25th double-double of the season — 14 points and 11 rebounds. He is third nationally in rebounds and in double-doubles.
"It was us more than Louisville," Faried said. "Louisville played some great defense, but we came out a little tight.
"Louisville is a relentless team when they press, and that's what they base their whole offense and defense around. We had just too many turnovers."