Harrell, No. 10 Louisville earn signature ACC win vs. No. 13 UNC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville certainly has nothing to prove when it comes to its stature as a basketball program on the national stage, but it has no standing on Tobacco Road. It's the new kid on the ACC block where Duke and North Carolina are blue bloods and Virginia is ranked No. 2 in the country.
Two-plus minutes into the second half of Saturday's rematch against No. 13 North Carolina, Louisville coach Rick Pitino had lost his white suit coat, burned two timeouts and was trying to figure out how to flip the switch on a team that was trailing by 18 points on its homecourt. The crowd at the KFC Yum! Center was as subdued as the No. 10 Cardinals.
Turns out that Montrezl Harrell is a pretty good switch.
Harrell was the catalyst Louisville needed as the Cardinals outscored the Tar Heels 16-7 over the final 10 minutes, 37 seconds of regulation to force overtime and then run away in the extra five minutes for a 78-68 win. The 6-8 junior forward scored 14 of his 22 points and grabbed 10 of his 15 rebounds after halftime, but it was more than just his numbers that gave Louisville its first signature win in its first season in the ACC.
"I thought Montrezl was possessed in the second half," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
No one was arguing with Williams.
Harrell's highlight will be a one-handed slam on a fast-break alley-oop pass from senior guard Chris Jones with 12:41 left in regulation that woke the capacity crowd of 22,418 up from its late afternoon slumber. Before that play, which cut what had been a 43-25 lead for the Tar Heels five minutes earlier to eight points, 47-39, the Louisville crowd was in a Southern hospitable mode.
The Louisville faithful obviously haven't built up a hatred for the Tar Heels yet. They were polite in their reception to the UNC players during introductions and gave Williams a warm welcome.
Maybe they just miss Mick Cronin, Kevin Ollie and Josh Pastner? Louisville fans definitely had no love for Cincinnati, UConn or Memphis from days gone by in Conference USA, the Big East and the one season the Cardinals spent in the American Athletic Conference.
Harrell's dunk raised the intensity level for the remainder of the game.
"I told these guys even before the season started if you throw the ball anywhere around the rim I'm going to go up and catch the ball and it's going to be a turnover on me before it's a turnover on them," said Harrell. "We took down a big-time team. We came in here with the mindset that we have to play team basketball in order to win this game. The first half we didn't play team basketball."
North Carolina outrebounded Louisville 27-16 in the first half. The Tar Heels had 11 offensive rebounds they turned into 11 second-chance points. Louisville outscored North Carolina 17-0 on second-chance points after halftime.
"We fed off Tez," said sophomore guard Terry Rozier, who equaled Harrell with 22 points and had 10 rebounds himself. "He affected us the whole second half. He was big the whole second half. People don't know how his leadership helps our whole team. He brings us in all of the time and tells us to just hop on the horse, he's going to take us there. That's what we did, and we got the job done."
Louisville improves to 18-3 and 6-2 in the ACC. However, the Cardinals were 1-3 in four previous games against ranked opponents and of their five previous league wins only Clemson had a .500 conference record entering Saturday.
North Carolina hosted Louisville three weeks ago and trailed by 13 in the second half before rallying for a 72-71 win when Marcus Paige hit a jumper with 8.5 seconds to play. Louisville's other losses came at home against top-ranked Kentucky and No. 4 Duke, which handed No. 2 Virginia its first loss of the season on Saturday.
The ACC is going to offer challenges every game and opportunities galore for resume-building wins, just as Louisville got in the old Big East. The Cardinals just hadn't gotten one of those yet in their new league.
"We were in that category of people saying we don't win big games," said senior forward Wayne Blackshear. "We definitely feel like this is a great win for us. It got us over that hump."
Six ACC teams are ranked in the top 45 of the NCAA Daily RPI. Five more are inside the top 100.
"The coaching is awesome because they all prepare as if it is an NCAA game," said Pitino. "I'm really impressed with the conference like I was with the Big East. You know I miss the Big East terribly. But I got the Big East — southern style."