BOZICH | Harrell does the wrong thing -- and then the right thin - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Harrell does the wrong thing -- and then the right thing

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Montrezl Harrell signed autographs for Louisville fans after the Cards' win at WKU Saturday. Montrezl Harrell signed autographs for Louisville fans after the Cards' win at WKU Saturday.

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WDRB) -- Montrezl Harrell did the wrong thing. Then Harrell did the right thing.

And his University of Louisville teammates did the most difficult thing, closing out the final 20 minutes of their 76-67 victory over Western Kentucky after the ejection of their best player.

Montrezl Harrell apologized for the forearm or elbow that he threw at Western Kentucky's Avery Patterson at Diddle Arena Saturday.

The officials – and the world -- saw what Harrell did with about 38 seconds left in the first half. He appeared to be wiggling away from a scrum with four WKU players not far from the Hilltoppers' bench when anger overtook Harrell's judgment.

The world also needs to hear the rest of the story – that Harrell knows he was wrong. There's no place for that move in basketball. This isn't the MMA. He knows that.

“I told these guys I made a wrong choice, a bad decision,” Harrell said. “I've got to live with the consequences … I know I shouldn't have reacted in that way and I'm truly sorry and apologize for the way I reacted."

“He deserved to get ejected,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said in a brief interview with Fox Sports after the game. “The officials made the right call.”

Harrell walked into a room across the hall from the U of L locker room, the same locker room where Harrell sat by himself and watched the second half on a small TV. By himself. No student managers. No trainers. Nobody from the coaching staff was with him.

He answered questions about his behavior. He said the mistake was his.

Harrell answered more questions than his head coach, who rushed out of Diddle Arena with one of his assistant coaches to make a flight to Florida. Pitino did not speak to reporters or do his post-game radio show with Paul Rogers on WHAS radio. (Rogers, for the record, said that Pitino told him before the game that he might skip the post-game interview because of the flight to see a recruit.)

“I'm very proud of my team,” Harrell said. “I told those guys in the locker room that I was a leader and I shouldn't have reacted the way that I did.”

It wasn't one of those scripted apologies written by the media relations department. It wasn't He Said/He Said junk. Harrell did not try to direct the blame on Western players or the officials.

Now he'll have to wait for ACC officials to uphold the decision by the game officials to assess Harrell a flagrant two technical, not an ejection for fighting. If that decision stands, Harrell will be able to play Tuesday against Cal State Northridge.

Either way, Harrell was wrong. And he said so.

He made a mistake – and Harrell owned it.

Harrell later stood outside the Louisville locker room for nearly 10 minutes, signing autographs, posing for pictures and talking to fans.

It won't stop fans in opposing arenas from howling about the dust-up for the rest of the season. It won't take the video off the endless Internet loops where you could find it before Harrell was even officially ejected. Fox Sports showed it at least a dozen times Saturday. It was news. Harrell's 14 points (including a three-point field goal), seven rebounds and two assists became an instant footnote.

It's something people, and likely NBA teams, will ask him about until Harrell delivers further proof that he can control his tireless motor instead of letting his motor control him.

Harrell plays hard, almost edgy. Always has and likely always will. He'll give you a stare, a bump, a growl. Montrezl Harrell wouldn't back down from Mike Tyson in his prime. Six days ago Harrell went off on his teammates -- and himself -- in the locker room after the Cards' dull performance against North Carolina Wilmington.

That's his way. Sometimes he takes it to the line. Saturday, he took it over the line. His way simply cannot become a way that includes punches.

Louisville won without him Saturday because Terry Rozier played 38 remarkable minutes, scoring 26 of his career-high 32 points in the second half. Rozier made 11 of 13 free throws and half of his six three-point shots.

Anas Mahmoud, the freshman center from Egypt, deserves several paragraphs, too – and not simply for his six points, five rebounds and three blocks.

It was Mahmoud who wrapped both of his arms around Harrell's waist and pulled him away from the altercation. Without Mahmoud, maybe the situation would have been uglier.

“I just trying to stop the conflict and pull him away,” Mahmoud said. “He was mad about whatever happened. I just tried to help him and don't make things worse than it is.”

Mahmoud did help. As did Rozier. And freshman Chinanu Onuaku, who contributed six rebounds and three blocks. And Chris Jones, who scored half of his 10 points at the free-throw line.

They played as if they were determined to prove they could win without their best player – a situation that could always happen again if Harrell turns an ankle or finds himself in foul trouble.

Harrell thanked every one of them when the players returned to the locker room – and then he made his apology.

“I think this is going to help us out a lot,” Harrell said. “It goes to show that even through the worst of adversity, these guys can still go out and get a W even without me being on the floor.

“I feel like that's something we really needed. You never know where there is going to be a time I could get in a foul trouble and somebody is going to have to step up. I felt like tonight these guys really showed it, especially on the road.”

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