On Montrezl Harrell's ejection
By ANNIE MOORE
College Contributor Network
For anyone watching the Louisville Cardinal's matchup against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, the sight of Montrezl Harrell being ejected could've been disastrous. Those of us who have experience watching this Louisville team could already picture Rick Pitino storming into the postgame press conference, spouting out ten short, pointed sentences and storming out to deal with his team.
So it might have come as a surprise if you stuck around to see the Hall of Famer speak with Fox Sports after the game. Pitino was surprisingly jovial, a clear smile across his face and with positive answers. This is because Harrel's ejection, while a disappointing turn of events, taught this young Cardinal team many valuable lessons.
For those not watching, 38 seconds before halftime, Harrel was on the ground, and four Hilltoppers surrounded him in the ensuing struggle, preventing him from getting up. The 6-foot-8 forward took exception to this action, standing up swinging. Harrell was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul (which does not carry the automatic suspension for future games).
"We talked about dealing with adversity," said Louisville assistant coach Kenny Johnson. "This was an adversity not having Montrezl Harrell, who we believe is the best player in college basketball, on the court for an extended period of time. Having to deal with that and getting guys in positions for extended minutes who hadn't played with the team."
Pitino then had to look down his bench and ask his young guys to step up. And they did just that. No more was this true than in the case of sophomore guard Terry Rozier. Rozier exploded in the second half, scoring 26 of Louisville's 76 points. Rozier's previous mark for a single game was 26 points, he smashed that Saturday afternoon in E. A. Diddle Arena, racking up a total of 32 points, five rebounds and three steals for Louisville.
Western Kentucky's game plan was evident: rattle this Louisville team, get physical and force the emotions to run high. An intelligent game plan no doubt when playing the No. 4 team in the country. After the Harrell incident, when Rozier got hurt, there was an obvious effort by the Western players to show him a little extra attention, including at one point shoving him out of bounds and over the scorer's table.
But one important lesson that came from this game, was that we saw these young men turn that aggression into positive energy on the basketball court. There is a long stretch ahead of Louisville this season, and no doubt a physical one. It will be important down the stretch to be able to point to this game and see the success they can derive from this kind of game.
Louisville shot 26-30 (86.7%) from the free-throw line, by far its best mark on the season. It goes without saying that this will be key in Atlantic Coast Conference play, and showed this team that excellent free-throw shooting is a necessity.
Another lesson learned in the win over Western Kentucky, was that of young Anas Mahmoud. Mahmoud had six points, three blocks, and some stellar plays, including a late block that would've made his teammate Harrell proud. Pitino has touted the Egyptian's skill and basketball IQ, but his size has caused many to question his potential. While his weight remains the missing piece from his star puzzle, the quality minutes he continues to contribute and especially on the road against the 'Toppers, shows how he will fit in Louisville's game plan.
Lastly, this team learned it can win without Montrezl Harrell, making it all the more dangerous when he's on the court. It cannot be overstated the impact that a Harrell-esque player has as soon as he steps on the court. His explosive dunks, team leadership and consistent performance on both sides of the ball is something that took Louisville from a potential bubble this offseason, to a top five team when he committed for his junior season.
But perhaps just as valuable to the rest of the men on Louisville's bench, the knowledge that they aren't a one-trick pony. Rozier draining threes and Mahmoud, Wayne Blackshear and Chris Jones adding quality time to win a tough road game down the stretch is a confidence builder to say the least.
Louisville is currently undefeated, but it will no doubt have a tough freshman season in the ACC, the Duke Blue Devils and Kentucky Wildcats are both coming to Louisville for games in the coming months. Harrell will have to step up and give quality minutes in both of those games. But now the guys around him have the confidence that they too can lead. A confidence they could only gain with him out of the picture.
Benjamin Disraeli once said "there is no education like adversity." On a Saturday afternoon in Bowling Green, this Louisville team learned a lot about itself. Lessons that will reap benefits when March rolls around, and every game in between.
Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports