LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Illinois State coach Dan Muller nearly had a signature win in just his seventh game. Coming close doesn't interest him.
The first-year coach and his Redbirds came into No. 5 Louisville and narrowly fell 69-66 after leading all but the first 39 seconds of the first half and most of the second.
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"We don't come for moral victories," said Muller, who led Illinois State to its last NCAA tournament appearance as a player in 1998. "We will use this and get better."
Muller's game plan to knock off the Cardinals included protecting the basketball, rebounding and guarding Louisville's backcourt of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. That last point proved troublesome as Smith had 24 points and Silva added 20.
"Actually to do it, is difficult," he said. "They just have some guys who have some unbelievable hand quickness and lateral quickness. They just make it a trip to the dentist."
The Redbirds (5-2) had big days from Tyler Brown and Jackie Carmichael to have a chance at the upset. Brown led all scorers with 25 and Carmichael finished with 20 points and nine rebounds.
Down 3 with a chance to tie, Brown airballed a 3-pointer with eight seconds left that was saved by Bryant Allen to Carmichael. Carmichael found Brown for another chance at overtime, drawing considerable contact from Louisville's Chane Behanan as the buzzer sounded. Louisville (6-1) claimed the win with the shot awry and no foul called.
Up 67-66 with 43 seconds left, Behanan missed two free throws but made amends on the next defensive possession, pinning a Carmichael shot on the glass and grabbing the rebound. That set up Siva for two free throws for the game's final margin.
Illinois State had its last lead at 61-60 with 4:25 to play.
Pitino said he didn't think Behanan fouled on the game's final shot, saying Brown leaned into contact.
Brown called it a questionable decision but said the Redbirds, who shot 52 percent from the floor, had other chances.
"We shouldn't have been in the situation where it came down to a last call like that," the senior guard from Owensboro, Ky. said. It was his second straight big performance after scoring a career-high 36 in the Redbirds' 72-69 overtime loss to Northwestern on Nov. 24.
They outplayed us," Pitino said. "We played really hard (but) they had answers to everything that we put at them."
Louisville trailed for all but the first 39 seconds of the first half, enduring a scoring drought of more than seven minutes after Behanan's opening basket, and went into the break down 33-25. Brown and Carmichael combined for 27 in the first half, outscoring Louisville in the opening 20 minutes.
The Cardinals took just their second lead at 37-35 with 16:37 left since scoring the game's first basket but Illinois State continued to battle in the second half.
In the locker room at the half, Pitino told his team to expect a close game, even if they rallied.
"Even if we take the lead, this is going down to the wire," he said. "We knew it would."
Siva -- the Big East preseason player of the year -- went to the bench with his fourth foul with 13:09 to play. Smith then carried the Louisville offense with his backcourt partner out, driving to the basket and drawing fouls. He hit six of eight free throws in a three-minute stretch, the last cutting the Illinois State lead to 55-51 with 10:03 to play.
Siva returned with 9:07 left, Illinois State up 57-51. Smith's steal from Johnny Hill and layup 21 seconds later was Louisville's first field goal in nearly four minutes. Luke Hancock immediately drew a charge on Hill on the next possession and Siva's 3-pointer off an inbounds play with 8:33 remaining cut the lead to one.
Behanan, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, hit an elbow jumper at the 6:08 mark to give Louisville its first lead in more than 10 minutes at 60-59. Johnny Wilkins' answered with 4:25 left for the Redbirds' last lead at 61-60 before Siva hit his final three of the game from the right elbow put Louisville up for good nine seconds later.
"Siva got really hot there and made some shots and that hurt us," first-year Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "I am very proud of my team but very disappointed in how it ended."