Skip to content

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

Mar 16, 2013, 10:57 PM EST

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. Kentucky lands commitment from international Class of 2016 big man

    Jan 25, 2015, 1:21 PM EST

    (Basketball New Zealand) (Basketball New Zealand)

    Kentucky is on the board in the 2016 class with a highly-touted big man from New Zealand.

  2. Former Memphis forward is transferring to Rhode Island

    Jan 25, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    Kuran Iverson, Greg Lewis AP

    A former four-star prospect is heading to Rhode Island.

  3. Former Miami (OH) point guard now a hot name in the 2015 NFL Draft

    Jan 25, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    Quinten Rollins, Javarez Willis AP

    A former Miami point guard is finding tremendous success on the football field and is a even being talked about as a first-rounder in the 2015 NFL Draft.

  4. Report: Elite 2016 international big man could decide today between Kentucky, Texas and Villanova

    Jan 25, 2015, 10:10 AM EST

    (Basketball New Zealand) (Basketball New Zealand)

    One of the best big men in the 2016 class could decide between three powerhouse programs on Sunday.

  5. Pregame Shootaround: Coach K goes for win 1,000 against St. John’s; 11 ranked teams in action

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    Mike Krzyzewski AP

    Coach K goes for win No. 1,000 against St. John’s and a fun battle of elite freshmen guards in the Big Ten are Sunday’s highlights.

  6. Austin Nichols hits a game-winner, Memphis coach Josh Pastner dances (VIDEO)

    Jan 25, 2015, 1:05 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    I feel comfortable saying I’m a better dancer than Josh Pastner. Not by much, though.

  7. Saturday’s Snacks: No. 18 West Virginia, Georgetown win absolute thrillers

    Jan 24, 2015, 11:58 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Get caught up on everything that has happened in college basketball on Saturday.

  8. Northwestern State staff wears special pants for ‘Suits and Sneakers’ game against McNeese State (PHOTO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 11:34 PM EST

    Patrick Netherton Patrick Netherton

    The pants worn by the coaching staff were one of the highlights in Northwestern State’s 92-68 win over McNeese State.

  9. #POSTERIZED: Memphis’ Markel Crawford dunks on Tulane defender (VIDEO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 9:31 PM EST

    Central Florida v Memphis Central Florida v Memphis

    Crawford and his teammates are looking to rebound from the 18-point loss they suffered at Tulsa Wednesday night.

  10. Central Connecticut State beats Wagner on Brandon Peel’s buzzer-beating three (VIDEO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 9:20 PM EST

    CCSU Athletics CCSU Athletics

    Peel finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks as the Blue Devils picked up their first win in NEC play.

  11. No. 21 Baylor beats No. 19 Oklahoma, should we be concerned about the Sooners?

    Jan 24, 2015, 8:34 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Baylor really needed this win, but Oklahoma has now lost three of their last four.

  12. Balanced effort moves William & Mary into tie for first in the CAA (VIDEO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 7:20 PM EST

    William & Mary v North Carolina William & Mary v North Carolina

    The Tribe bounced back from a loss at Delaware earlier in the week to move into a tie for first in the CAA.

  13. Slow start dooms No. 9 Iowa State as they lose at Texas Tech

    Jan 24, 2015, 6:46 PM EST

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwrjywuxywyyywu3mjy5mddjotbkn2i1nzqynjq3zdhk AP

    Texas Tech hit its first five three-pointers and led by as many as 19 points in the first half of their 78-73 win over the Cyclones.

  14. No. 11 Kansas makes a statement blowing out No. 17 Texas

    Jan 24, 2015, 4:52 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    “We are still the best team in the Big 12″ — Kansas, on Saturday.

  15. #POSTERIZED: Marquette’s Derrick Wilson with a surprising poster (VIDEO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 3:14 PM EST

    Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 3.10.44 PM

    Wilson dunks all over Georgetown’s Paul White.

  16. Iowa star Aaron White suffers ‘stinger’ in shoulder against Purdue

    Jan 24, 2015, 1:53 PM EST

    Traevon Jackson, Aaron White

    White is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Hawkeyes.

  17. WATCH LIVE: Northeastern visits William & Mary on NBCSN

    Jan 24, 2015, 1:30 PM EST

    Richmond Northeastern Basketball AP

    Northeastern and William & Mary clash on NBCSN.