LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Gorgui Dieng liked every aspect of his jump shot on Saturday, from how the ball felt in his hands to his release.
That was clear from the number the 6-foot-10 Louisville center took against Seton Hall, to say nothing of his range. Dieng scored a career-high 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting to help the No. 10 Cardinals pull away from Seton Hall for a 79-61 victory.
Seven of his Dieng's baskets were medium range, catching the Pirates off guard. The shot itself was nothing new, but he needed to take it more often. At the urging of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, he did it frequently.
"To be honest with you, I was very frustrated because I worked so hard in the summer to get that shot," said Dieng, who also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots. "I started making it at the beginning of the season, then I broke my (left) wrist. I came back and I was missing it, kept missing it.
"Coach told me, `I know you can make it, don't worry about it. If you miss it, you miss it. If you make it keep playing. One shot in the game isn't going to change the game. So today, I was wide open. I just shot it."
Russ Smith added 19 points and Luke Hancock made three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points as the Cardinals (22-5, 10-4) won their third straight to move into a three-way tie for second place in the Big East with Syracuse and Marquette – both of which lost Saturday – and a game behind first-place Georgetown, which beat Syracuse.
Against Seton Hall, Louisville wanted to firm up its game ahead of an important stretch run including next week's showdown at No. 8 Syracuse. The Cardinals succeeded on just about every count, forcing 21 turnovers including 12 steals and shooting 26 of 57 (45.6 percent) in sweeping the season series.
Their total included 7 of 15 from 3-point range, but the main topic afterward was Dieng's confidence with his shooting and the way it could benefit Louisville down the road.
"It opens up the floor in a way that you really can't describe," Smith said. "They have to come out. I can slash and get some easy layups off Gorgui's man. He's going to knock it down every time. That's Gorgui's shot. When I go one on one, I tell him to shoot that shot, even when he's in the post. When he goes over that right shoulder he's always going to knock that down."
Aaron Cosby scored 14 second-half points for 17 to lead Seton Hall (13-15, 2-13), which dropped its ninth straight.
Eugene Teague added 16 points, Brian Oliver 12 and Fuquan Edwin 11 for the Pirates, who shot 23 of 52 (44 percent).
Louisville's offensive effort followed Pitino's recent practice shift toward players working on their respective strengths. Dieng, for example, has focused on shooting jumpers, which has been effective for him when used.
The individualized effort clearly benefited Dieng, who sank two jumpers from the foul line along with a tip-in to give Louisville an 8-2 lead. Oliver, Cosby, Edwin and Karlis Haralds combined for four jumpers including three from beyond the arc, keying Seton Hall's 17-9 spurt to put them up by two.
Seton Hall's zone defense also stifled Louisville during that run, no doubt due to coach Kevin Willard's familiarity with Pitino's system as a former Cardinals assistant.
Louisville snapped out of it and took over from there, closing the half with a 23-7 run over the final 9:40 of the half for a 40-26 lead at the break. Four 3-pointers helped – notable for a team hitting just 32 percent from beyond the arc coming in – while Dieng added a couple more soft jumpers en route to a 10-point half.
"I knew he was good, but tonight he was just automatic from mid-range," Teague said of Dieng. "The kid didn't miss."
The Cardinals made five of seven from long range and 13 of 28 overall from the field (46 percent), while their signature defense made seven steals and forced 11 turnovers leading to 10 points. Seton Hall hit just 10 of 26 field goal attempts.
Injuries have plagued the Pirates, with Brandon Mobley's season-ending shoulder surgery being the most recent. And that lack of depth became a factor as they fell behind by 19 several times in the second half.
"That's the tough thing for us. We get out of gas quickly," Willard said. "That's been our issue. We have to battle so hard to stay in it because we're not playing with a power forward and we only have one guard substitute. I'm really happy with the way the guys are still fighting out there."