NEWARK, N.J. -- Louisville looked like it had the game against Seton Hall under control at the start of the second half. That unraveled over the next 18 minutes but the Cardinals found a way to get their third straight victory.
Russ Smith scored 14 points and Louisville (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today), which led by 17 points in the second half, held off Seton Hall 60-51 on Saturday night.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino had a simple explanation for a game that certainly wasn't pretty but was incredibly competitive.
"It was two teams 4-4 that wanted the game badly and two teams that were willing to fight for the victory," he said.
The Cardinals (17-5, 5-4 Big East) took a 38-21 lead with the opening basket of the second half. They saw the Pirates (15-6, 4-5) get as close as 55-51 in the final minute before the Cardinals made five of six free throw attempts over the final 51 seconds.
Jordan Theodore had 18 points for Seton Hall, which dropped its fourth straight overall and second in a row at home.
"I thought his play was tremendous," Pitino said of Behanan. "I thought in the first half that he got every rebound and played terrific defense. ... I saw a guy that would kill to get rebounds tonight."
Herb Pope added 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Pirates.
Both teams struggled from the field in the second half, with Louisville going 6:20 without a field goal for one stretch while Seton Hall went 7:03 without one. The shooting droughts covered a lot of the same time, leaving a long stretch where both teams managed just two free throws each.
Pope had five points in a 12-2 run that got the Pirates within 55-51 with 56 seconds left, but they missed their last four shots from the field while the Cardinals were closing with the good free throw shooting.
Pope, who averaged 16.1 points and a Big East-best 10.3 rebounds, struggled around the basket and finished 4 of 13 from the field.
"I take full blame," the senior said. "I didn't capitalize. I didn't help us."
Seton Hall finished the game 16 of 58 from the field (27.6 percent) and was 3 of 18 from 3-point range. At one point in the second half the Pirates had seven straight possessions facing a nine-point deficit. They didn't convert on any of them.
"We didn't finish a lot of times," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "You have got to make layups. You have got to make free throws.
"We're lacking a lot of confidence and it's kind of making us a step slow. It's going from making a layup to missing a layup, making a shot to missing a shot. So to hang in there, force 24 turnovers and give yourself a chance, that's the best we can ask for."
The Cardinals shot 45.4 percent for the game (20 of 44), but committed the 24 turnovers -- seven by point guard Peyton Siva -- that led to 23 Seton Hall points.
"Offensively we were great the whole night," Pitino said. "When I substituted our defense went down because they really got after us.
"The obvious thing that we didn't do well is turn the ball over too much. We're going to change Peyton Siva's shoes because I've never seen anyone slide as much in my life. Changing his shoes is the only thing I can think of to cure that problem."
This was Louisville's first week of the season when it wasn't ranked in the Top 25. The Cardinals were No. 9 in the preseason poll, rose as high as No. 4 with their 12-0 start, but they fell out of the rankings last week after a stretch where they lost five of seven.
The Pirates had won four straight before the current four-game losing streak. They joined the Top 25 for the first time since 2001 but fell out after one week.
Louisville took a 21-6 lead with 7:54 left in the first half because the Pirates missed 14 of their first 17 shots and committed six turnovers. They did get within 25-17 with 3:54 left on a layup by Fuquan Edwin but the Cardinals closed the half on an 11-4 run to go up 36-21.
Seton Hall finished the half shooting 28 percent (7 for 25), including making one of 10 3-point attempts. The Pirates came into the game second in the Big East in 3-point shooting (36.5).
Louisville shot 48.3 percent (14 for 29) in the half and was 4 of 10 from behind the arc.
Willard was an assistant to Pitino for six seasons at Louisville and is now 0-2 against his former boss.
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Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku, who recently underwent a medical procedure to correct a heart rhythm issue detected during the combine, will keep his name in the NBA draft pool.
Andrew White III will return to the Nebraska men's basketball team next season after removing his name from the NBA draft.