LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Montrezl Harrell was annoyed with the question, but it had to be asked:

Did he intentionally throw a basketball off the face of a Miami player while trying to save a possession for the University of Louisville during the first half of the Cardinals' 55-53 comeback victory against the Hurricanes at the KFC Yum! Center Saturday?

“C'mon, man,” Harrell said. “Do I look like I would sit here and tell you I intentionally hit the ball in the face of another player?”

That was only the beginning. Jerry Seinfeld and Frank Costanza will tell you this game should have been scheduled on Festivus. The post-game discussion was dominated by the airing of grievances.

Jim Larranaga, the Miami coach, was not happy with Harrell. One of basketball's unwritten rules is that when you throw a ball at an opposing player, you aim low, not at his nose. From Larranaga's view, Harrell was a frustrated and dumped his frustration on Tonye Jekiri, the unfortunate Miami target.

“Obviously he didn't do that (throw it low) and threw it at Tonye's head,” Larranaga's said.

The next sarcastic sound bite came from Louisville coach Rick Pitino. He did not understand why Larranaga told the officials that Jekiri suffered a concussion during the dust-up late in the first-half – and then the center played 17 minutes in the second half.

Anybody else have something on his mind?

As a matter of fact, Chris Jones, Louisville's senior guard, said that his mother, Christy, was not pleased after she heard that Pitino had called Jones a “knucklehead, a complete knucklehead,” after he suspended Jones for the Syracuse game last Wednesday.

“I didn't have a reaction,” Jones said. “He explained the definition of a knucklehead in his situation and what he meant by it. I didn't really care about it.

“My Mom took it as being rude and him bashing me. But stuff like that, coach is coach. He loves us. At the end of the day it comes from the bottom of the heart. He loves us. So he doesn't want to do anything to hurt us. He could have used other words that could have bashed me harder and made it worse.”

But your Mom was not pleased?

“She just took it like your mom would take it,” Jones said. “If you try to raise your son to be the best man that he can be, whose mom wouldn't get upset?

“I told my Mom, ‘C'mon, Mom, I'm a man. If it didn't bother me, it shouldn't bother you.' ”

I'll have to cut the discussion off there, share some game analysis and finish the airing of these grievances later.

Louisville won a game the Cardinals could have lost, ending their two-game losing streak. They floundered through the first half, straining to score 19 points, the fourth time this season U of L has failed to score at least 20 points in the first 20 minutes.

The second half was better, considerably better. The defense was sharp. They outrebounded Miami by 10. They got to the foul line without sending the Hurricanes there until the final five minutes. They shared the basketball, earning six of their eight assists in the final 19 minutes. They won after trailing with 35 seconds to play.

With Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak in town to scout him, guard Terry Rozier missed 10 of his first 11 shots, then made two of his last four. Jones transformed from a complete knucklehead into a complete warrior. He scored 17 with two assists, two steals and five critical rebounds. He was everywhere.

Harrell was Harrell, which means that he led Louisville with 21 points, 14 rebounds and unrelenting 40 minutes.

But …

But with 1:49 remaining in the first half, Harrell tried to extend a possession by throwing the ball off Jekiri, Miami's 7-foot center. Pitino agreed with Larranaga. One of basketball's unwritten rules is that you throw the ball at a player's lower body. Harrell hit Jekiri on the left side of his face from about five feet away as Jekiri was standing outside the baseline. Harrell did not appear to be in danger of falling out of bounds. Both of his feet came down safely inbounds.

That sent the officials to the monitor. Their review resulted in flagrant one technical foul on Harrell. After making one of two free throws, Jekiri finished the half.


“I saw it,” Larranaga said. “Again, when you're a player and you go up and you're going to throw it off somebody, you naturally … your instinct is to throw it down because if you throw it up you might actually throw it into his hands.

“So you'll have to ask (Harrell) what was going through his mind. It appeared to me that he was very frustrated at that point in the game and I think he took his frustration out on Tonye.”

Fair enough. How did it happen?

“I went up for an offensive rebound,” Harrell said. “All of my momentum was going toward me falling out of bounds with the ball. I saw Jekiri standing out of bounds and I threw the ball off him.

“He unfortunately ended up getting hit in the face, but it was a basketball play.”

It was not intentional?

“If that's the case I would have did it earlier in that possession where I threw it off the other person's body,” Harrell said.

Are you aware coach Larranaga disagreed?

“That's not my problem,” Harrell said. “It's a basketball play. Their coach wasn't out there making the plays. It's a basketball play. It was about getting my team an extra possession.

“They went to the monitor. They felt like I did a flagrant-one foul. I paid the punishment for it. I got hit with the flagrant. That was the end of it. Move on from it.

“You can't sit here and harp on it and say that I'm intentionally throwing basketballs at a player's face. It's a basketball game. Everybody's going to get hit in the face. You get hit in the face with elbows all the time. What are players throwing an intentional elbow now?”

You seem upset about the play?

“I am,” Harrell said. “I'm tired of everybody coming and saying I'm intentionally throwing the ball and hitting people in the face. It's a basketball play. I'm falling out of bounds and I seen that man standing out of bounds and I threw the ball off him. That should be the end of the discussion.”

It was not. It was only the beginning of the discussion. Jekiri remained in the locker room at the start of the second half. Larranaga said he was told the player sustained a concussion and that the minds of the Miami players were on their teammate when the second half began.

One problem: Jekiri returned to play 17 minutes in the second half after Larranaga said that he was cleared by the Louisville doctors.

That, of course, ignited Pitino, who mistakenly thought Jekiri had been cleared by Miami doctors. And in an age when there is more knowledge about the dangers of head injuries, why take the chance of putting the player back in the game?

“I just called (U of L football coach) Bobby Petrino and said, ‘Get a hold of that Miami doctor because in 15 minutes a kid went from a concussion to playing and totally healthy,' ” Pitino said. “We're going to send a plane down to hire that doctor, get him out for football.”

I could go on. And on. It's late February, the dog days of the college basketball season. Teams are playing rematch games. Teams are trying to wiggle into position for the NCAA Tournament or upgrade their seed status.

It made for a cranky Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center. Happy Festivus.

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