Mar 16, 2013, 10:57 PM EDT
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.
Mar 9, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
MEAC favorite North Carolina Central looks to avoid the chaos of last season’s tournament, in which the top three seeds all lost in the quarterfinals.
Mar 9, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
This time last season, Mitch McGary emerged as a presence inside for Michigan. He became the breakout star in the NCAA tournament, helping the Wolverines reach the national title game. McGary has appeared in only eight games this season due to a back injury, and hasn’t played since Dec. 14 in a home loss to…
Mar 9, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
The 7-foot center has missed the last two games for the Kansas. The Jayhawks have won the Big 12 title, but have dropped two of their last three games heading into the conference tournament
Mar 9, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
On Saturday, IUPUI’s season came to a close following a 38-point loss to IPFW in the Summit League quarterfinal. Sunday morning, the university announced that head coach Todd Howard had been removed from his position after three seasons. Howard had compiled a 26-70 record in his three seasons on the Jaguars’ sideline. “I’m so thankful…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Three more teams will punch tickets to the Big Dance on Sunday, including Wichita State if the Shockers can get past Indiana State and improve to 34-0
Mar 9, 2014, 3:10 AM EDT
No. 4 Duke and No. 10 San Diego State picked up big home wins, and Eastern Kentucky became the second team into the NCAA tournament field on a busy Saturday.
Mar 9, 2014, 12:56 AM EDT
New Mexico led by 16 with 12:05 remaining. And then their inability to adjust to San Diego State’s 1-3-1 zone cost them the Mountain West title.
Mar 9, 2014, 12:50 AM EDT
No. 10 San Diego State overcomes a 16-point second half deficit as they knock off No. 21 New Mexico and bring home a Mountain West title. But should that change how we view the Aztecs?
Mar 9, 2014, 12:09 AM EDT
North Carolina shot nearly 60%, but getting whipped on the boards cost them dearly at Cameron.
Mar 8, 2014, 11:56 PM EDT
Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood both went off for No. 4 Duke as the Blue Devils smacked around North Carolina. Does that mean we can call them a Final Four team again?
Mar 8, 2014, 11:16 PM EDT
Get caught up on all of Saturday’s bubble action
Mar 8, 2014, 9:38 PM EDT
Creighton’s senior forward scored his 3,000th career point on Saturday night. Only seven other players have reached that total.
Mar 8, 2014, 9:24 PM EDT
Get to know the second entry into the 2014 NCAA Tournament field, the Eastern Kentucky Colonels.
Mar 8, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
No. 3 Arizona hasn’t been the best perimeter shooting team, but they’ve been able to make up for that on most days. That wasn’t the case against Oregon, and the struggles of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Gabe York didn’t help either.
Mar 8, 2014, 7:09 PM EDT
Texas A&M celebrated Senior Day on Saturday and it included honoring former high school signee Tobi Oyedeji, who was tragically killed in a car accident in 2010 and never played for the school.
Mar 8, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
Oregon wins its seventh straight, and the Ducks likely punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with the win over No. 3 Arizona.
Mar 8, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
No. 19 UConn has struggled to crack 70 points during a recent six-game stretch and it could lead to an early exit for the Huskies in the postseason.
Mar 8, 2014, 6:01 PM EDT
The top seed in next week’s American Athletic Conference was determined by an old school method Saturday afternoon.
Mar 8, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
The Shockers are now one step closer to entering Selection Sunday undefeated.
Mar 8, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT
As Louisville sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell puts up huge numbers against great competition in the last few weeks are the Cardinals a threat to make a run at back-to-back national titles?
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