Louisville was hoping for a nice bounce-back effort after suffering its first loss of the season last weekend against Duke. Illinois State sure didn't make it easy.
Russ Smith scored 24 points and Peyton Siva battled through foul trouble to add 20, as the fifth-ranked Cardinals escaped with a 69-66 victory over the Redbirds.
Louisville (6-1) trailed for nearly the entire first half, then battled back and survived a pair of potential tying 3-point attempts in the closing seconds.
Tyler Brown scored 25 points and Jackie Carmichael chipped in 20 for Illinois State (5-2), which has lost two straight heartbreakers against power conference teams after opening the season with five straight wins.
"They are one of the best teams in the country. However, we are very disappointed. We did some good things and some bad things," Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "I am very proud of my team, but very disappointed in how it ended."
The Redbirds dropped a 72-69 overtime decision to Northwestern last Saturday in the final of the South Padre Island Invitational and gave Louisville all it could handle on Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.
Louisville trailed 57-51 with just over nine minutes to play, then ripped off nine straight points to take the lead. Illinois State countered with four in a row for a 61-60 edge, but Siva returned to the floor after a brief stay on the bench and drilled a three to put the Cardinals ahead for good with just over four minutes remaining.
A Siva driving layup gave Louisville a 67-63 lead with 2:11 left, but Bryant Allen drained a triple a minute later to pull Illinois State within one. Chane Behanan missed two free throws with 43.9 seconds left for Louisville, but atoned with a block at the other end to keep the Cardinals ahead.
Siva was then fouled and drained two from the line for a three-point edge with 18.4 seconds to play, giving Illinois State one last opportunity to tie.
Brown took a contested long three that missed everything, but the Redbirds scrambled for the offensive rebound and Brown got another chance. As he left his feet, he appeared to draw contact from Behanan and fired up an airball, but a foul was not called.
"Well we felt it was going to be that type of game and it was," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "They outplayed us. We played really hard. They had answers to everything that we put at them, but we played really hard."
Louisville hadn't played since a 76-71 loss to Duke last Saturday in the final of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. The Cardinals appeared rusty at the start of this one.
After Behanan made the first basket of the game, Illinois State took control with the next 14 points. Carmichael accounted for half of the output and his layup just over seven minutes into the contest gave the Redbirds a 14-2 lead.
Illinois State led by as many as 13 in the first half, but Louisville trimmed its deficit to six before heading to the break down 33-25. Brown scored 14 points and Carmichael added 13 in the opening 20 minutes for the Redbirds, who made 14-of-24 shots.
Louisville opened the second half with a 12-2 run and grabbed a 37-35 edge on a bucket by Behanan, but Illinois State countered with six straight to again move in front and opened a six-point advantage midway through the half.
Behanan finished with 15 points. He was 1-of-7 from the free throw line, as Louisville struggled to a 14-of-25 effort as a team from the stripe ... The Redbirds were 11-of-14 from the line ... Illinois State made 52.1 percent from the field overall, but committed 22 turnovers that led to 26 Louisville points ... Louisville again played without center Gorgui Dieng, who also sat out last week's loss to Duke with a broken wrist ... Louisville has won both meetings with Illinois State. The first was a 117-107 Cardinals win in 1974.