NC A&T steamrolled by top-seeded Louisville, 79-48
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- North Carolina A&T coach Cy Alexander knows who he's pulling for the rest of the NCAA tournament.
If Louisville wins it all, at least his Aggies can say they got beat by the best.
North Carolina A&T's reward for winning its first NCAA tournament game was a 79-48 rout by top-seeded Louisville on Thursday night that wasn't even as close as the score made it look. Bruce Beckford was the only Aggies player in double figures (12 points) as Louisville limited A&T to 42 percent shooting and forced 27 turnovers. The Cardinals set an NCAA tournament mark with 20 steals, including a Louisville tournament-record eight by Russ Smith.
Smith also had 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting, while Peyton Siva had eight assists, four steals and six points for coach Rick Pitino's powerhouse.
"I told Rick that I'm pulling for him to win the national championship," Alexander said. "He's got a Final Four-quality team. They made shots and they're as good as anybody in the country when they're going."
No 16th seed has ever beaten a No. 1 and, unlike that Southern-Gonzaga squeaker that ended shortly before the Aggies and Cardinals tipped off, this one was never even a contest.
Oh, the Big East champs let A&T (20-17) hang around for a few minutes, giving the small handful of Aggies fans enough time to take photos of the scoreboard while the margin was still respectable. (OK, it was 6-4. Considering the Aggies had never even won an NCAA tournament game until Tuesday night, it was as good as a lead.)
Once Louisville (30-5) stepped on the gas, however, this one was done.
"This is going to sound crazy ... I hate the first-round game when you're a 1 seed," Pitino said. "Normally your guys get a little tight, saying, `We're 1 seed, uh-oh, we could lose this game,' and you start playing not to lose rather than to win. I felt very good about this game because the opponent we were playing is a trapping, running team. So I felt good about the matchup.
"North Carolina A&T is a well-coached team and well-drilled team," he added. "They ran into a similar style tonight that was bigger, more talented."
Louisville shot better than 57 percent, and the only players who didn't score were the benchwarmers who came in at the end of the game. The Cardinals scored on oh, so sweet finger rolls and rim-rattling dunks. They scored on layups and knocked down short jumpers. They hit from 3-point range and converted three-point plays.
And where to even begin with those guards.
Siva and Smith are arguably the best tandem in the country and, if they continue playing this way, Louisville will have a good shot at improving on last year's trip to the Final Four.
With the game already out of hand, Siva and Smith combined for a 13-0 run that put Louisville up 67-37. Smith scored the first two baskets, Siva answered with two of his own and then Smith drilled a 3 from the corner. They finished it off with Siva scooping up a loose ball at halfcourt and dishing to Smith.
In the first half, they may as well have been playing keep-away for as much as they let the Aggies have the ball.
Gorgui Dieng blocked a jumper by Beckford, and Louisville got the rebound. Luke Hancock made a 3 at the other end, and North Carolina A&T didn't even have time to set its offense before the Cardinals harassed Jeremy Underwood into a turnover. After a quick layup by Smith, the Aggies had the ball for just a couple of seconds before Siva snatched it away from Jean Louisme. Underwood quickly fouled Montrezl Harrell, who made the second of two shots.
Siva let the Aggies get near halfcourt before pouncing again for another steal. Smith missed the layup, and the Aggies managed to hold onto the ball long enough to not only take a shot, but get a 3-pointer from Adrian Powell.
Had Pitino let his guards play longer -- he pulled them with about seven minutes left -- the score would have been even more lopsided.
"I was told by several coaches that had played against Louisville (about) the strength and quickness of the guards, their quick hands," Alexander said. "It's hard to simulate that in 24 hours, in a hotel ballroom."
Now, Louisville might make plenty of other teams look silly before the tournament is over. But the Aggies didn't help themselves much, either. They were whistled for 10-second and shot-clock violations, and had to call a timeout because they were being smothered by Cardinals. They threw the ball away and took shots that had no prayer of going in.
And that was just in the first 10 minutes of the game. By the second half, the A&T pep band broke into a rousing rendition of Tupac's "Keep Ya Head Up."
"We just didn't execute," Beckford said. "Their press caused turnovers and that's how they won the game."
Still, even this end was better than the Aggies could have hoped for when a loss to Norfolk State in the regular-season finale dropped them to 15-16. But North Carolina A&T roared through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament to clinch an automatic bid, then beat Liberty on Tuesday night for its first NCAA tournament win in 10 tries.
"I'm going to think about the loss because I'm a competitor and I hate losing," Powell said. "But at the end of the day, we accomplished something that nobody has done. ... Nobody expected us to make it that far in our conference. We shocked everybody and proved everybody wrong."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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