LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Samardo Samuels' first shot in college basketball was blocked. His second was a brick.
His third? A dunk, the first of what Louisville hopes is many during a season of high-expectations for the third-ranked Cardinals.
Samuels scored 18 points and grabbed five rebounds in his debut at Freedom Hall as Louisville blitzed Morehead State 79-41 in the opening round of the Billy Minardi Classic on Saturday. Louisville will play either Florida A&M or South Alabama in the finals on Sunday.
"I wasn't used to the crowd, I wasn't used to a lot of things," Samuels said. "The second half I settled down. I didn't know it would come this fast. It seemed like I was in high school yesterday."
Samuels isn't anymore, one of the main reasons Louisville is a trendy Final Four pick.
The Cardinals got off to a slow start and led by just nine at the break before exploding in the second half. Louisville took control with a frantic 33-7 run that gave the Cardinals a 72-37 lead with less than eight minutes remaining.
"We opened the first half with opening night jitters," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "When we passed the ball, we looked good."
The Cardinals looked even better than that at times in the second half, as point guard Edgar Sosa spearheaded a potent attack that blitzed the Eagles in a dizzying barrage of dunks and 3-pointers. Sosa had 10 of Louisville's 21 assists against just nine turnovers.
Louisville returns four starters from last year's team that made it to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament, but all eyes were on Samuels on Saturday. The highly touted center didn't disappoint, showcasing the soft hands and raw athleticism that made him one of the most coveted prospects in the country.
The 6-foot-8 Samuels dominated inside, overcoming a slow start to make 8-of-12 field goals, six of them dunks. He added five rebounds and stayed out of foul trouble, one of Pitino's major worries.
"He did OK," Pitino said. "He's gotten about 20 percent better above the rim. He's still looking for the foul below the rim. He's got to finish with a power move or a power dunk."
There were plenty of both in the second half for the Cardinals, as the last Top 25 team in the country to get its season started finally found its stride.
Morehead State's Maze Stallworth hit a 3-pointer that drew the Eagles within 29-23 a minute into the half, but that was it. Samuels sandwiched two dunks around a layup and Louisville took off, quickly pouring in 41 points in about 10 minutes.
"You know it's coming and the only thing you can do is you can play without turning the ball over and hope you can make some shots late in the shot clock to take some wind out of their sails," said Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall. "We made a couple of shots late in the shot clock, but we had way too many turnovers."
All 12 Louisville players scored as the Cardinals shot 68 percent from the floor in the second half.
Pitino said before the season he wasn't concerned about his team's ability to score, but worried the Cardinals would be so focused on scoring they wouldn't play any defense. His players heeded his message, holding the Eagles to 29 percent shooting and forcing 17 turnovers.
"(Morehead State) wore out a little because of pressure," Pitino said. "You don't see the rewards of that until the second half. The defense was there the whole 40 minutes."
Louisville forward Terrence Williams showed no ill effects from a knee injury that forced him to miss about three weeks of practice. He grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and did his best to make sure his teammates were involved. Williams had three assists, two blocks and two steals and was the last Louisville player to score, throwing down a dunk in the final minutes.
By then, Samuels was standing on the sideline waving a towel cheering on his teammates, his slow start a distant memory.
Samuels' first shot -- a dunk attempt -- was blocked by Morehead State's Kenneth Faried. His second, a putback, clanged off the backboard. The Cardinals kept feeding him the ball in the post and he finally got to the foul line, where he knocked down two free throws. He sprung loose minutes later for a dunk, but it failed to spark the rest of the team.
The Cardinals missed 17 of their first 20 shots and couldn't shake loose of the Eagles until a 17-6 run late in the first half helped give Louisville a 29-20 edge at the break.