Get their best player into early foul trouble and let the match-ups play themselves out. It's a simple philosophy that worked out in the No. 22 Louisville Cardinals' favor as the Eastern Michigan Eagles fell 86-53 on the road.
James Thompson found himself in early foul trouble, having to head to the bench midway through the first half with a pair of fouls leaving 6-foot-8 Brandon Nazione to play defense in the paint against Louisville's bigs. When you're responsible for having to guard and out-rebound three guys that are 6-foot-10 (Mangok Mathaing, Raymond Spalding, Chinanu Onaku), it's going to be rough time, especially if they're the ones that he has to face on the other side of the court too.
Once he got back on the court to open up the second half, he continued to add onto the streak that many have been eyeing on. After grabbing four rebounds within the first five minutes of the game, Thompson took the easy dunks, timed in the put-backs en route to his sixth-straight double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds) of his young career.
The Cardinals were able to record five blocks at the half with EMU shooting 31 percent from the floor (0-for-11 for 3-pointers) to grab a 37-21 halftime lead.
You ready to see something ugly. Check out that shooting gap. pic.twitter.com/ErFrfx0Q1F— Eagle Totem (@eagletotemblog) December 12, 2015
Shooting the long ball was a glaring problem for the Eagles in this game, not making a single one until they were at the under-15 minute mark of the second half. It took them 17 attempts to finally make their first while Louisville was already shooting 6-for-14 in that category. Especially in the first half when they missed all 11 of these shots, each miss is even more crucial when you don't have your best rebounder (let alone the MAC leader) out on the floor to potentially get a few second chance opportunities to help dig yourself out of a deficit.
Raven Lee is the team's most threatening shooter on the Eagles roster and the Cardinals prepared for that. It took him a little while to find a comfortable shot, but he was able to put up a solid second half performance following up Price's [only] deep ball with three of his own. Lee made half of his 10 field goals, 6-for-8 at the free throw line, and led the Eagles with 19 points before heading to the bench with three fouls against him.
Nazione had to make up for Thompson's minutes and was able to stay out of foul trouble (2), grabbing eight rebounds in 29 minutes on the floor.
While he's not the shooting threat that this team could really use, Ty Toney still shows growth as a serviceable point guard. Dishing out five assists, Toney was still able to cut to the basket and put up eight points of his own, despite going 0-for-4 from long range. Willie Mangum came into the game averaging 16.1 points per game (led team), but had a rough day from the floor; the transfer guard was only able to finish with two points, missing ten of his shots.
Collectively, the Eagles shot 29.7 percent from the floor, missed 22 3-pointers, but they were at least able to force 14 turnovers (12 points off) and grab 17 offensive rebounds. So for Louisville being a national threat, having four players be 6-foot-10 or taller, and them with five players to finish double-digits in scoring, the biggest dark spot is just the inability to make shots. The Eagles had their chances, had a few good looks, but shots just didn't fall.
And buckets heals all wounds.