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No. 3 Louisville blows out Hofstra, 97-69

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Russ Smith scored 21 of his game-high 30 points in the first half and No. 3 Louisville made 12 3-pointers to set the tone for a 97-69 rout of Hofstra on Tuesday night.

The senior guard shot 12 of 22 from the field including 5 of 12 from beyond the arc. Wayne Blackshear made three straight 3s for nine points to help Louisville break the game open with a 26-2 second-half run. Luke Hancock returned from an Achilles injury to hit a couple from long range as well as the Cardinals finished 12 of 31 from deep.

Louisville (2-0) shot 35 of 68 overall (51.5 percent), a big improvement from its 38-percent effort in a season-opening win over the College of Charleston.

Chris Jones added 20 points with seven assists for Louisville, Montrezl Harrell had 19.

The Cardinals forced 22 turnovers leading to 30 points and dominated the paint 44-16.

Louisville survived some nervous moments early in the second half as Jamall Robinson made three from beyond the arc, Dion Nesmith added seven points, including a 3, and Jordan Allen scored on a putback during an 18-8 run that brought Hofstra within 54-49 with 15:35 left in the game.

Just as quickly, Louisville turned it into an 80-51 lead over the next 7 1-2 minutes with help from Blackshear, who got in on the act from outside after missing both 3-pointers in the first half. Smith added nine points during the run.

Nesmith led Hofstra (1-2) with 24 points.

Louisville’s night began with the unveiling of a banner adding coach Rick Pitino to the school’s list of Naismith Memorial Hall of Famers. On Saturday, a banner recognizing Louisville’s 2012-13 NCAA championship was unfurled.

This time, Louisville responded with the performance their coach expected.

Pitino was seeking major improvement from his team after Saturday’s 70-48 victory over the College of Charleston that was close until the Cardinals closed with a 22-3 run. Though the Cardinals forced 21 turnovers in that game, they barely won the rebounding battle and were outshot percentage-wise by the Cougars.

Louisville’s inside game figured to improve with the return of junior Chane Behanan, whom Pitino reinstated on Monday after an indefinite suspension that lasted 26 days. One game after forwards Harrell and Blackshear combined for 14 rebounds and 21 points on just 7-of-21 shooting, Behanan was back on the roster and expected to add muscle and movement to the Cardinals’ frontcourt.

Hancock also dressed after missing the preseason with an Achilles injury. Cardinals fans didn’t have to wait long to welcome back last spring’s Final Four MVP, who entered 3:45 into the contest to cheers of “Luuuke!”

Behanan came in with 12:09 remaining in the half to cheers as well, putting the defending champions close to full strength. Junior guard Kevin Ware missed his second straight game after returning last week from last spring’s gruesome right leg injury to play 10 minutes in an exhibition win over Pikeville but is expected to be out for several games.

For the most part Hancock and Behanan were witnesses to Smith’s hot perimeter shooting with help from Jones, the junior college transfer. The backcourt duo accounted for Louisville’s first 20 points and five assists as Smith made four of his first seven from long range while Jones added six points as the Cardinals led by 10.

Consecutive baskets, including another 3, gave Smith 21 points and Louisville a 35-14 lead with 7:56 remaining en route to a 46-31 halftime lead. Louisville had some defensive lulls but still forced 14 turnovers leading to 20 points.