By Ken Cross
Mangok Mathiang is a kind, friendly big-hearted senior center of the Louisville Cardinals. He is not bashful and will not shy away from a conversation with virtually anyone. He played big minutes at Louisville this season whether it be as a starter or as a role player coming off the bench and contributed generally every night to what is a 24-7 season and a second place tie with Florida State and Notre Dame in the tough ACC.
Last Saturday against Notre Dame, he went out in style on Senior Day as the 6-10, 230-pound center scored a season high 18 points and grabbed 11 boards in the Cardinals win over Notre Dame. He was aggressive in the post in the last two games as this could be a major plus if he maintains that type of consistency going into Friday afternoon’s ACC quarterfinal at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino noted Mathiang’s presence on his Senior Day and how he sustained his game over his 28 minutes
“We shot the ball way to quick in the beginning and that is why we got down,” Pitino commented, “We didn’t even give our rebounders a chance to rebound the ball. Then we started going inside and working it the right way, and we got a lot of good buckets.”
Mathiang’s presence on the inside is a must if Louisville is to advance out of it’s side of the bracket which sees potential match ups with Duke and North Carolina or even Syracuse or Miami before a shot at a championship. It’s a situation where the Cardinals have the depth to keep everyone fresh and out of potential foul trouble, but they must have Mathiang on the floor in the clutch as his presence is felt on both ends of the court.
“The thing I’ve noticed always in my life, in every run for the roses, so-to-speak to the Final Four, it’s always guys that you don’t expect that stick out,” Pitino commented, “It’s always the unexpected guy because everybody’s scouting us to stop the better players. So, it was a big lift tonight for Mangok to come on because that gives you four weapons.”
Pitino referenced the 1987 Final Four with the Providence Friars where Billy Donovan and Delray Brooks were taken out of the game by Georgetown and Darryl Wright came off the bench and became the MVP. He also noted the 2013 National Championship team where Tim Henderson did the same against Wichita State in the national semifinal.
Mathiang’s aggressiveness on the boards and scoring ability plus his defensive position and shot-blockiing potential could fortify a Cardinals run. Guards that are slashers and shooters such as Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell, and Deng Adel can up their games and supplement their talents if Mathiang can perform at this level.
“He got a couple of put-backs, didn’t he?” said Notre Dame’s Mike Brey after last Saturday’s 71-64 Cardinals win in the Yum! Center, “He was on that backboard. He had six offensive rebounds. That’s where he hurt us. And you know, their size wears on you over 40 minutes and their front line did wear us down a little bit.”
Mathiang, who came to Louisville, from Melbourne, Australia, by way of IMG Academy in Florida, was also excited by the rest his team would get with the double-bye in Brooklyn this week.
“It’s something coach has been prepping us for,” said Mathiang, “A double bye was one of the things he said we much do and I feel like everyone stepped up to the plate and got the job done. That is one step on to the next one.”
Game on at roughly 2:30 EST Thursday in Brooklyn as the Cardinals will try to win three in a row for an ACC Tournament title, which is the next step in their ascension.