PITTSBURGH – If the college basketball season ended in mid-January, Louisville’s Jordan Nwora would likely be the recipient of an award given to the likes of Justin Jackson, Marvin Bagley III and Zion Williamson in years past. At least Jeff Capel certainly believes so.
“I think he’s a frontrunner for (ACC) Player of the Year in our league,” said Capel, following Pitt’s 73-68 overtime loss to the No. 11 Cardinals at the Petersen Events Center Tuesday night.
And in reality, Capel isn’t wrong. Nwora, a preseason first-team All American, has been lighting it up on a nightly basis for the Cardinals. Entering the matchup with Pitt, Nwora’s 333 points scored through 16 games were the most by a Louisville player in 20 years. In ACC play, the junior led the league in scoring (22.6 ppg), three-point field goal percentage (.600) and free-throw percentage (.850). He surpassed 1,000 points for his career against Notre Dame on January 11 with 10 20-plus point games this season and 23 over the last two years.
There’s obviously a whole lot of season left, but the body of work Nwora has put together thus far while guarded by the opponent’s best defender has been nothing short of spectacular.
NWORA’S ACC STAT LINE (PTS, REB FG%, 3FG%, FT%)
- Nov. 5 at Miami: 23 points, 12 rebounds, 50% FG (8-16), 66% 3FG (4-6), 100% FT (2-2)
- Dec. 6 vs. Pitt: 19 points, 6 rebounds, 58% FG (7-12), 40% 3FG (2-5), 75% FT (3-4)
- Jan. 4 vs. Florida State: 32 points, 10 rebounds, 73% FG (11-15), 83% 3FG (5-6), 71% FT (5-7)
- Jan. 7 vs. Miami: 19 points, 12 rebounds, 50% FG (6-12), 60% 3FG (3-5), 100% FT (4-4),
- Jan 11 at Notre Dame: 20 points, 4 rebounds, 46% FG (7-15), 50% 3FG (4-8), 100% FT (2-2)
“I’ve been around some players in this league, and I don’t know if I’ve seen a stat line (like his),” said Capel. “You look at 23 points a game and nine rebounds a game. I’ve seen that. But when you look at 56% from the floor, 60% from three and 85% from the free-throw line, and that’s volume from the 3-point line, we have so much respect for him as a player.”
From a defensive perspective, it’s safe to say Nwora was the Panthers’ No. 1 priority Tuesday night. Au’Diese Toney was given the tall task of guarding him, and if there’s one positive to glean from an otherwise painful overtime loss, it was Toney’s ability to limit his production. Nwora finished with 14 points, which marked his lowest output in conference play and second-lowest of the entire season, on 5-for-13 from the field (38%) and 2-for-5 from 3 (40%). He was held to 12 points in regulation and tallied just two of Louisville’s 12 points in overtime as Toney knocked him out of rhythm.
“He’s not going to get 30 every single night,” said Louisville coach Chris Mack. “Especially not against a team like Pitt who’s going to put a guy like Toney on him and be in his jersey all night.”
In context, though, it wasn’t all that surprising. One of Nwora’s worst games actually came against Pitt in 2019, when he shot a career-low 2-for-14 with eight points in an 89-86 loss to the Panthers at the Pete. Toney was largely responsible for it then as he was Tuesday night. And his (not-so) secret formula is simple: an active, in-your-face approach.
“You can’t relax,” Toney said. “(With) most guys, you can take cover plays off and stuff like that, but Nwora you can’t relax on because you’re always going. You’re always looking for him to be a threat, so you always got to be locked the whole time during the game.”
Pitt will need more of the same from Toney on the defensive end as its ACC schedule continues on. The Panthers face North Carolina and Boston College next at home before a pair of road tests against Syracuse and No. 3 Duke.