Versatile Clark shines in defeat of Bobcats

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Earl Clark decided to return to Louisville for his junior year rather than enter the NBA draft last spring because he felt he needed to become a more complete player.

That's turning into a scary proposition for Louisville's opponents.

Playing with renewed confidence after a trip down memory lane with coach Rick Pitino, Clark turned in perhaps the best game of his career in No. 11 Louisville's 91-56 victory over Ohio on Sunday in the Marques Maybin Classic.

The lanky power forward did a little bit of everything, scoring 17 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and collecting a career-high eight assists as the Cardinals (4-1) won their second straight following an upset loss to Western Kentucky a week ago.

"Coach P showed me a lot of clips from last year of good games that I had, he showed me how I scored in different ways," Clark said. "I'm a better player when I play more athletic."

And the Cardinals are better for it.

Louisville held Ohio (3-3) without a field goal for a 10-minute stretch spanning the first and second half and played the kind of selfless basketball Pitino has preached would be the key to this season.

"We played a very intelligent basketball game," Pitino said. "Our guys were terrific tonight. Good things happen when you pass the ball."

The Cardinals had 26 assists on 33 field goals, often bypassing open shots for better ones as Clark's teammates followed his lead.

"Earl played great from beginning to end," guard Edgar Sosa said. "He got other people involved. He got the ball down low to Samardo [Samuels] and when he gets the ball like that, we're hard to stop."

Samuels led Louisville with 19 points -- most of them coming on nifty feeds from Clark -- and Jerry Smith snapped out of an early season slump with 16 points.

Jerome Tillman led Ohio with 21 points and seven rebounds, but the Bobcats shot 37 percent, turned it over 18 times and had no answer when the Cardinals had Clark and Samuels on the court.

"They present you with that dilemma when you have to deal with Samuels inside," Ohio coach John Groce said. "So their size and athleticism around the basket, coupled with their 3-point shooting, made them very difficult to defend."

After watching Clark settle for jump shots too often early in the season, Pitino popped in tapes of some of Clark's best games during his breakout sophomore season. Pitino's message to Clark was simple: Use your size and strength to get to the basket.

Clark responded by going 7-of-11 from the field, including a couple of perfectly executed bank shots over smaller opponents. His long arms gobbled up rebounds and -- perhaps most importantly for a team still looking for some leadership -- he found a way to get his teammates involved.

"Earl is a great player, he makes things easier for everybody," Samuels said.

On Louisville's first possession, Clark hit a cutting Smith for a layup. When the Bobcats tried to double-team Samuels in the low post, Clark would flash to the free throw line and simply lob it to Samuels for a dunk or an easy layup.

Still, the Bobcats tried to make it close for awhile.

Steven Coleman hit a 3-pointer to bring Ohio within 26-19 with 8 minutes to play in the first half, but it would be the Bobcats' last field goal for more than 10 minutes. By the time Tillman hit a jumper more than 2 minutes into the second half, Louisville led 48-31.

Clark and Samuels made sure the Bobcats wouldn't get any closer. Samuels put in an easy layup off a pass from Clark, then took a charge on Ohio's ensuing possession. Samuels converted a three-point play, added two free throws and capped his own 12-point run with a breakaway dunk and another three-point play to make it 60-31.

Smith, a starter for most of the last two seasons, hadn't played well early in the season and found himself coming off the bench in Louisville's last two games as Pitino tinkered with his lineup.

Smith was back with the starters against the Bobcats and played like he didn't want to head back to Pitino's doghouse. He scored Louisville's first seven points by mixing it up rather than hanging out behind the 3-point line. His layup got things going and he followed it with a tip-in. Clark then stepped in front of a pass at midcourt and found Smith in his favorite spot on the wing, where he knocked down a 3-pointer.

"A couple of shots went down early and my teammates were getting me the ball," Smith said. "It's been kind of frustrating. The hard work in practice really wasn't showing on the court. The way we've been practicing and preparing, it's great to see how the intensity is paying off on the floor."


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