MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Even as the game’s leading scorer, Louisville guard Chris Jones did not have a lot to say about the No. 5 Cardinals’ 92-31 victory over Rutgers on Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference at FedEx Forum.
But there was a lot to be said about coming back to Memphis. Jones grew up in the city and went to Melrose High School in the tough Orange Mound neighborhood. While Jones and the Cardinals were in town playing the Memphis Tigers on March 1, his step-brother, Demetrius Ray, was shot and killed.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Jones has played his best basketball of the season in the last two weeks.
“My emotions came out yesterday when I went to his grave,” Jones said. “Some things you’ve got to let go … I don’t let that get to me when I’m playing basketball. I think that freed my mind of that. His death’s not a good thing, but at this point that’s why I’m playing harder and I’m playing way better, too.”
Pitino said, “This is a tough city, as we all know. We talked about when tragedies hit, about celebrating a life no matter how young. You don’t necessarily win a game for him, but you honor him with the type of person. Chris Jones, he’s come so far as a young man, I don’t even want to call him a kid.”
Jones not only led Louisville with 18 points (4-for-7 from 3-point range) but had six steals, five rebounds, four assists and a block. Guard Russ Smith had 16 points and five assists, and guard Terry Rozier had 14 points and three assists off the bench.
Louisville (27-5), the tournament’s No. 2 seed, will face No. 6 seed Houston (17-15) in the semifinals on Friday after the Cougars upset 25th-ranked and No. 3 seed SMU.
Rutgers (12-21) scored the fewest points it had all season and the 31 points represented a low for Louisville opponents. The Cardinals held Rutgers to 24 percent shooting from the field and had 19 steals and forced 26 turnovers that became 44 Louisville points. Louisville outrebounded Rutgers 50-33.
No Rutgers player scored in double figures. The Scarlet Knights were led by guard Myles Mack with eight points.
Rutgers was competitive but a brief time. A 3-pointer from forward J.J. Moore cut Louisville’s lead to 13-10 with 14:06 to play in the first half. The Cardinals then outscored Rutgers 45-6 the remainder of the half and carried a 58-16 lead into the break.
Rutgers had more turnovers (17) than points through the first 20 minutes. The Cardinals pressed some, but many of the turnovers came when the Scarlet Knights tried to drive, left their feet and threw the ball to other team.
“We had an awful, awful game,” Moore said.
Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said, “Nothing worked. Throw the Xs and Os out the window.”
Louisville swept the season series. In the previous meeting at Louisville, the Cardinals pounded Rutgers 102-54. But since then the Scarlet Knights had played three ranked teams — Memphis, Connecticut and Cincinnati close — losing by five points, six points and four points, respectively.
“Rutgers has played everybody tough in their last five games,” Pitino said.
Jordan said of the defending national champions: “They’ve been to the top of the mountain. We’re starting at the bottom of the mountain. We were picked 10th and ended up seventh. We won a first-round game.”
This game, however, was so out of control that in the postgame press conference reporters from Louisville were asking 6-9 forward Stephan Van Treese about a lob meant for him that was intercepted and dunked by teammate Montrezl Harrell — “not happy about that,” Van Treese said — and the 3-point shot he passed up.
“We’re in tournament time, so we’re not messing around too much,” said Van Treese, who had 10 rebounds and four steals but went 0-for-1 from the floor and did not score. “Senior night would have been more appropriate.”
NOTES: By defeating South Florida 72-68 in the first round of the AAC Tournament, Rutgers broke a two-year streak of losing its opening game in postseason conference tournaments after losing its first game in the Big East the previous two years. … Junior
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