Skip to content

Montrezl Harrell shines, No. 4 Louisville wins Big East championship

Mar 16, 2013, 10:57 PM EDT

Montrezl Harrell AP

NEW YORK, N.Y.– For a time it was almost too difficult to comprehend how a team that looked so out of sync in the first half of a conference title game could pull off something so remarkable in the final 20 minutes of a game with such implications and such story lines, at such a venue on such a night.

After trailing by 13 points at halftime, No. 4 Louisville came out of the gate in the second half on a 5-0 run that forced a Jim Boeheim timeout, part of a larger 27-3 run that stunned, shocked, and disoriented No. 19 Syracuse in a 78-61 Cardinal win Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

“I had to jump our guys pretty hard at halftime because…our defense wasn’t great because our offense was quick-shooting and we’re not a quick-shooting team,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “But to go out in the second half and score 56 points off good offense, then our defense came because of the good offense.”

Freshman Montrezl Harrell had his best game of the season in the biggest game of his young collegiate career with 20 points, seven rebounds, and an immeasurable amount of energy on both ends of the floor that fueled Louisville’s monster comeback.

Harrell provides a different kind of player on the interior for Louisville when compared to Chane Behanan, bringing more explosiveness getting to the basket and more length, according to Pitino.

“You never know in college basketball who is going to step up,” Pitino said. “Now, tonight [Harrell] takes over the backboard, takes over the game…that’s the beauty of college basketball.”

“I came in the game just ready and being prepared for whatever coach needed me to do,” said Harrell. “These guys looked for me and I just tried to finish for them.”

But for as many variables as there were that went into the making of the 2013 Big East tournament final between Syracuse and Louisville, the first half itself was rather simple. It had nothing to do with the complex monetary motives that push realignment or the politics of recruiting blue-chip prospects. Syracuse simply made shots at a 45 percent clip and Louisville at 26 percent.

But Louisville coach Rick Pitino dialed up the defensive pressure to begin the second half in a move that caught Syracuse off guard and allowed the Cardinals to make up ground when shots were not falling: by winning the turnover category. Louisville ended up +9 in turnover margin and outscored Syracuse 56-26 in the second half.

The ability to force turnovers, combined with a much more apparent effort to work for good shots on the offensive end made the difference. Center Gorgui Dieng hovered in the middle of the Syracuse zone at the top of the key and dished to open teammates when the defense collapsed, finishing with eight assists and just one turnover.

Louisville guard Peyton Siva won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award for the second straight time. He becomes only the second player in Big East history to win the award twice, joining former Georgetown great Patrick Ewing, who won the award in 1984 and 1985. Siva had 11 points, eight assists, and just two turnovers in the win.

“In all honesty, I didn’t think I was going to be the MVP. I wasn’t really focused on it,” Siva said. “Syracuse has been my Kryptonite for these last couple years…Coach had the confidence to leave me in the game this time and I didn’t want to let him down.”

After the game, Pitino told the media that Villanova coach Jay Wright had texted him earlier in the day, telling him that “it was only fitting” that the final Big East game as we know it would feature Pitino vs. Boeheim. Amidst the elation of winning a conference title, Pitino thought about it in a way, too.

“In the final minute of play, the first thing i thought of was what an incredible group of guys I’m coaching,” Pitino said. “Then immediately I thought of [Big East founder] Dave Gavitt and what he formed and all of us in some way or another flourished because of Dave Gavitt.”

Boeheim was less poetic and sentimental about the end for the Big East, saying he had been thinking about the end of the conference as it currently is for two years. But there was something special in Madison Square Garden Saturday night. Something about a historic comeback to win a conference championship helped to push aside the fact that this league would be changed from here forward.

If just for one night it was that way, I doubt Pitino, Boeheim, and the rest would have wanted it any other way.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Latest Posts
  1. Cleveland State to lose Trey Lewis to transfer

    Mar 31, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Lewis will have some well known suitors this offseason.

  2. Rick Barnes will be the next head coach at Tennessee

    Mar 31, 2015, 9:57 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Barnes spent the last 17 seasons at Texas.

  3. UConn, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland, all No. 1 seeds, advance to women’s Final Four

    Mar 30, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT

    Brianna Turner AP

    UConn, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland make up the 2015 women’s Final Four.

  4. Sources: Johnathan Williams III expected to transfer from Missouri

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:24 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Williams was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Tigers this season.

  5. Nebraska forward giving up basketball for senior season

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Nebraska forward Walter Pitchford is giving up basketball for his senior season.

  6. Xavier sophomore guard will transfer

    Mar 30, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT

    Parker Wentz, Brandon Randolph AP

    Xavier is losing a reserve guard to transfer.

  7. Reports: Chris Mullin is the new head coach at St. John’s

    Mar 30, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Chris Mullin will get a chance to restore glory at St. John’s.

  8. George Mason hires Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen

    Mar 30, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    George Mason makes a move to hire a new head coach.

  9. 2015 NCAA Tournament All-Second Weekend Team

    Mar 30, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Who were the best players in the second-weekend of the NCAA tournament?

  10. Dan Patrick Show: Tom Izzo talks Final Four, facing Coach K

    Mar 30, 2015, 3:07 PM EDT

    Michigan State earned its Final Four spot Sunday (AP Photo) Michigan State earned its Final Four spot Sunday (AP Photo)

    Izzo became the first coach to lead three teams seeded No. 5 or lower to the Final Four.

  11. Damion Lee to graduate, transfer from Drexel

    Mar 30, 2015, 2:41 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Lee will be a priority target during the offseason.

  12. While a major question remains unanswered, No. 4 North Carolina can be special in 2015-16

    Mar 30, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    The Tar Heels should return every piece to its rotation next season, but what happens with the NCAA inquiry will have an impact as well.

  13. Dan Patrick Show: Sam Dekker talks Wisconsin’s return to Final Four

    Mar 30, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Dekker was the best player in the second weekend of the event.

  14. The AP released their All-American teams on Monday

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:42 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    There isn’t anything all that wrong with the AP’s list. The first team is perfect.

  15. 2015 NCAA Tournament: Final Four betting lines, Vegas odds

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:19 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    If you need to place a bet, here are the lines you’ll be working with.

  16. Reports: Jeff Neubauer hired as next Fordham head coach

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:46 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Neubauer was with Eastern Kentucky for 10 years and John Beilein for nine seasons before that.