NEW YORK — The college basketball season is only six weeks old, but it’s already headed for its fifth No. 1 team of the season.
Top-ranked Louisville lost its first game of the season Tuesday, falling 70-57 to unranked Texas Tech in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“Felt like a February-, March-type basketball game, the way it was played,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “We had to get shots early. I like the way my guys played. We got fast-break baskets and did enough offensively.”
Louisville struggled at both ends of the floor, going nearly 10 minutes in the first half without a field goal and shooting just 3-for-17 from 3-point range for the game. Jordan Nwora led the way with 14 points, but the Cardinals’ guards couldn’t get going against Texas Tech’s defense. They turned it over 13 times in the second half.
“They completely negated a lot of the stuff that we wanted to run,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “Hopefully, our guys take this as a lesson learned. We’re going to have to grow from this. And it is a lesson learned.”
Texas Tech, last season’s national runner-up, entered Tuesday’s game on a three-game losing streak — after losing five regular-season games all of the previous season. The Red Raiders got 18 points from Davide Moretti and 13 points from Terrence Shannon, as well as unlikely production from walk-on Avery Benson, who had 10 points and two momentum-changing blocks in the first half.
Benson, who redshirted two years ago and played just 70 minutes last season, has been thrust into the rotation the past three games because of freshman star Jahmi’us Ramsey’s injury. He helped turn the game around for the Red Raiders after Louisville jumped out to a 12-5 lead in the opening minutes.
“We expect that out of him,” senior forward Chris Clarke said. “Avery’s a big-time player, he’s a leader. I didn’t really know too much about him before I got here, but when I did [transfer from Virginia Tech], they told me Avery was the toughest player. I’ve been expecting that since day one.”
Texas Tech’s defense, which has been one of the best in the country the past couple of seasons, returned to form after struggling since Thanksgiving. The Red Raiders allowed both Iowa and Creighton to shoot 40% or better from 3-point range, while DePaul turned open driving lanes into easy baskets late in the game last week.
Texas Tech came out against Louisville looking to erase what happened in the past two weeks, especially on the defensive end.
“We all knew that we had a big opportunity in front of us,” Moretti said. “We dropped a couple games, so we felt like we had to bounce back in some ways. We knew it was probably the biggest opportunity we could have all year, playing against the No. 1 team after a three-game losing streak. That was our mindset — a big opportunity and to try and play as hard as we possibly could.”
“Too many times against DePaul, guys were just driving straight to the basket,” Moretti added. “This time, we were playing more together, we were more connected on the defensive side of the ball.”
Nwora started just 1-for-9 from the field, with Texas Tech contesting his perimeter jumpers and limiting his open looks. Mack said Louisville hadn’t faced a team so far this season that pressured the ball on the perimeter like Texas Tech did, which made the Cardinals tentative in their half-court offense.
Clarke said the team wanted to go over every defensive clip since the DePaul loss, hoping to take away Nwora and Ryan McMahon, Louisville’s two best shooters.
“To be honest, we’re not doing very well on the defensive end; our last three games, we’re letting their best shooters go off for wide-open shots,” Clarke said. “We just wanted to get that down, and I feel like we did a great job on 30 [McMahon] and 33 [Nwora] tonight.”
Tech lost four starters and sixth man Brandone Francis from last season’s 31-win group, while rotation wing Deshawn Corprew left the program in the fall. Beard rebuilt with seven freshmen and two graduate transfers, with Moretti and Kyler Edwards as the lone returning scholarship players.
“It was a big night for us. Even if the scoreboard looked different, I would have felt the same way,” Beard said. “Our young team grew up today. There was a maturity to this team tonight.”
“I think it’s definitely a confidence-builder,” he added. “You’ve gotta have some success to validate what you’re doing.”
With Louisville falling, expect No. 2 Kansas to move up to the top spot if the Jayhawks can beat UMKC on Saturday. No. 3 Ohio State received more first-place votes than the Jayhawks in this week’s AP poll, and the Buckeyes play at Minnesota on Sunday.
Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State were the previous No. 1-ranked teams to lose this season.