Things were never easy, but Louisville was able to survive a 69-66 win against Illinois State at home.
The Redbirds got off to a 33-25 lead at the half, but the Cardinals led a furious comeback and held onto the lead as the game came to an end.
Two Chane Behanan missed free throws in the final minute left the door open for Illinois State. However, he made up for that play with a block on the potential go-ahead basket on the next possession.
Peyton Siva then put the team up three with two free throws, and Illinois State could not make the game-tying basket with seconds remaining.
The final shot could have been called a foul, but the referee decided not to put the shooter on the line.
Illinois State was led by two seniors Tyler Brown and Jackie Carmichael. The two combined for 45 points and 15 rebounds on the day. The pair, along with junior Bryant Allen, have been leaders of this team all season and will be keys to any future success this squad has.
As a team, the Redbirds were able to shoot an outstanding 52.1 percent from the floor.
Russ Smith was the big-time scorer for Louisville with 24 points, followed closely by Siva with 20.
Louisville had to play its second game in a row without Gorgui Dieng. The center is out indefinitely with a broken wrist, and so far he has been tough to replace. The junior averaged 9.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game last season and is one of the best defensive players in the nation. He was certainly missed in this game, as well as in last week's loss to Duke.
The current No. 5 team in the country still has some tough non-conference games against Memphis and Kentucky before Big East plays begin, so Louisville will have to clean up its play before then.
For Illinois State, this should give the team a lot of confidence going into conference play.
ESPN Stats and Information pointed out the significance of the game for Illinois State:
Illinois St leads No. 5 Louisville by 5 in 2nd half. Last top-5 team the Redbirds defeated was No. 4 Indiana St in '78. #LarryBirdWasaJunior— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 1, 2012
A fellow head coach at Northwest Florida State, Steve Forbes, debated the final call:
Wild ending in Louisville!!!!Cards escape the Redbirds. Illinois State probably should have been shooting 3 free throws to tie— Steve Forbes (@ForbesNWFhoops) December 1, 2012
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports talks about what this game shows about the sport:
Louisville survives against Illinois State. Minimal separation in college basketball --- parity.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 1, 2012
It has been an eventful week for Louisville as a whole, as pointed out by Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune.
It's been a good week to be a Louisville grad. Cards join ACC, earn BCS bowl bid, win hoops vs. Ill. State. Oh, and UK loses twice in hoops.— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncanTP) December 1, 2012
Overall, this was a great effort by Illinois State, even in the loss. A former Louisville manager tweeted about the respect that this tough loss should earn the team:
Much respect to Illinois state tho...they came in & played like they were supposed to win! They didnt care about the # next to our name...— R. Woodford (@RanDMC89) December 1, 2012
Louisville has an interesting road game at College of Charleston before returning home for a game against UMKC.
Illinois State is home for the next three games against Wyoming, Western Michigan and Morgan State.