“I don’t know what it speaks of, I’m more worried about losing to Texas Tech,” Mack said.
The Red Raiders lost four of their top five scorers off the team that took Virginia to overtime before losing in the NCAA championship game last season. While Beard could have expected a bit of a transition season, three straight losses, including one at — an albeit, improved and nationally ranked — DePaul made for a rocky start. And with leading scorer Jahmi’us Ramsey (17.3 points) out for the third straight game because of a hamstring injury, the prospect for a win at MSG seemed remote.
Then again, no team can be counted out this season against the hoops heavyweights.
Moretti buried two straight 3s midway through the second half (he missed his eight other attempts) for an 11-point lead that gave the Red Raiders the space they needed. Chris Clarke hit another 3 for Texas Tech and it went into a timeout with a seven-point lead.
Louisville could never make a run, and Nwora was held below his 21.4 scoring average. Louisville missed 3s, layups and generally looked lethargic on offense. Down eight, guard Darius Perry was whistled for a charge in the paint and the unraveling Cards were about out of chances.
“We’re going to have to grow from this and use it as a lesson learned,” Mack said.
Security did man the baseline to keep the wildly enthusiastic Red Raiders fans at bay.
“We had the Raider Power going in Madison Square Garden,” Beard said.
The Cardinals missed 20 of 28 shots overall from the floor in the first half and were limited from 3-point range, the kind of shooting that gave a scuffling team like Texas Tech a chance.
And who knew, the walk-on would lead them.
Benson, one of only three players back from last year’s team, had the Red Raiders fans going wild with a pair of sensational blocks that stunned the Cards. Benson stuffed Nwora, a player of the year candidate, and then finished the half with a monster rejection off a Lamarr Kimble shot at the horn to send the Red Raiders into halftime up 31-28. They led by as many as nine in the half and were in prime position to pull off the No. 1 stunner.
Benson, the shaggy-haired, ink-stained bundle of energy, had his teammates riled up from tip.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to pump the breaks,” he said. “But I’d rather pump the breaks than not be rolling at all.”