LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Russ Smith scored 21 second-half points, including 12 straight over a 3:03 stretch that put No. 12 Louisville ahead for good and helped the Cardinals beat St. John's 72-58 on Thursday night.
In a game of spurts for both teams — who traded the lead five times — Smith led the last and crucial one for Louisville. The junior guard's dozen points led the Cardinals' 14-5 run for a 46-38 lead.
Smith finished with 24 points for Louisville, which dominated the paint 32-16 and outrebounded St. John's 45-37.
Peyton Siva added 12 points, Chane Behanan 10 and Gorgui Dieng 10 with a career-high 17 rebounds as the Cardinals (20-5, 8-4) bounced back from Saturday's five-overtime loss at Notre Dame to climb into a three-way tie for second place in the Big East Conference.
Phil Greene IV scored 21 points for St. John's (15-10, 7-6), losers of three of four.
Both teams shot 23 of 62 from the field (37 percent). But Louisville's inside dominance, Smith's 12-of-14 foul shooting and some timely turnovers helped the Cardinals pull away in a rough game.
St. John's was coming off a 77-58 loss at Syracuse, but the Red Storm had built momentum over their previous eight games. They had averaged nearly 72 points per game in their six games compared to just 57 in losses to the Orange and Georgetown.
Louisville's main goal was shaking the malaise from last Saturday's loss at Notre Dame, a victory that slipped away from the Cardinals' grasp in the final minute of regulation and further from their reach in the five extra sessions behind questionable shot selection and soft defense.
Smith's shooting made him a target of scrutiny, which he overcame with an intense second half against the Red Storm.
Midway through the first half, however, Louisville failed to contain Red Storm shooters Greene and D'Angelo Harrison, who combined for 13 points during a 16-6 run that put them ahead 19-16. Louisville's combination of bad shots and bad passes helped spark St. John's transition game and those two finished them off with jumpers including one each from behind the arc.
Louisville responded with an 8-0 run ignited by a couple of turnovers and three jumpers by Siva, who had eight points in the half along with Chane Behanan. The senior guard finished another 8-0 spurt by the Cardinals over the final 1:41 of the half by driving the length of the court and slicing through for a layup at the horn to provide a 32-23 lead.
Despite shooting just 39 percent (14 of 36), the Cardinals dominated the lane 20-2 mostly on dunks by Behanan and Wayne Blackshear.
Harrison had 13 and Greene seven in the half for St. John's, which hit just 9 of 26 from the field (35 percent). Unfazed, the Red Storm scored the first 10 points of the second half to go back ahead before Louisville answered with yet another spurt (12-4) led by Smith, who scored 10 straight to put the Cardinals back up 44-35.
Harrison finished with 18 points.