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. How concerned should North Carolina fans be that Brandon Ingram passed on the Tar Heels?

    Apr 28, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Under Armour) (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    Brandon Ingram’s decision to bypass UNC and go to Duke should worry the folks in Chapel Hill.

  2. Former Missouri guard Shane Rector headed to Utah State

    Apr 28, 2015, 9:17 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Rector was a three-star recruit coming out of high school.

  3. Rutgers lands impact junior college forward

    Apr 27, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT

    Wisconsin v Rutgers Getty Images

    Rutgers added a potential starter for next season on Monday.

  4. N.C. State lands commitment from athletic 2015 forward

    Apr 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT

    Temple v North Carolina State Getty Images

    N.C. State landed a surprise commitment from an athletic 2015 forward on Monday night.

  5. Report: NCAA rules committee could change men’s basketball to 30-second shot clock

    Apr 27, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT

    NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

    The NCAA is considering moving the shot clock to 30 seconds in men’s basketball.

  6. Duke lands five-star Class of 2015 wing Brandon Ingram

    Apr 27, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Getty Images) (Kelly Kline/Getty Images)

    Duke picked up its second major commitment in recent weeks with the addition of five-star wing Brandon Ingram.

  7. Seven takeaways from the AAU weekend at Nike EYBL, UAA and adidas Gauntlet

    Apr 27, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/adidas) (Kelly Kline/adidas)

    Here’s seven takeaways from a busy weekend at the three shoe company events.

  8. Top ten recruit Jayson Tatum dunks on defender (VIDEO)

    Apr 27, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT

    Nike Nike

    Tatum might be the best player in the Class of 2016.

  9. Field for the 2015 Veterans Classic announced

    Apr 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    It will feature a preseason top five team.

  10. College basketball’s seven biggest early entry losers for the 2015-2016 season

    Apr 27, 2015, 12:48 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Who were the biggest losers of the early entry deadline?

  11. College basketball’s six biggest early entry winners for the 2015-2016 season

    Apr 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Which potential draft picks returning to school will be the most influential in 2015-16?

  12. Austin Hatch’s inspirational basketball career has come to a close

    Apr 27, 2015, 10:17 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Hatch is one of the most inspirational people you will ever hear about

  13. UPDATED: 2015-2016 College Basketball Way-Too-Early Preseason Rankings

    Apr 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Marcus Paige (Getty Images) Getty Images

    The return of Buddy Hield pushes previously unranked Oklahoma into our way too early rankings.

  14. 2015 College Basketball Updated Early Entry List

    Apr 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Who’s going pro? Who’s returning to school? Who are we still waiting to hear from?

  15. Texas A&M adds former USF point guard, eligible immediately

    Apr 26, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Collins averaged 7.1 points and 5.2 assists per game last season, and his arrival could lead to Alex Caruso getting more scoring opportunities off the ball.

  16. Alcorn State announces hiring of Montez Robinson as head coach

    Apr 26, 2015, 7:35 PM EDT

    Bethune-Cookman Athletics Bethune-Cookman Athletics

    Robinson has quite the rebuilding job on his hands, but guard LeAntwan Luckett (16.3 ppg) is one of the team’s top four scorers who have eligibility remaining.