BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — Montrezl Harrell’s sudden meltdown appeared costly for fourth-ranked Louisville until Terry Rozier stepped up to provide composure for the Cardinals.
Not to mention some timely baskets and a career-high 32 points.
Rozier took charge after the first-half ejection of Montrezl Harrell to score 26 points in the second half and lead the Cardinals past Western Kentucky 76-67 on Saturday.
“We knew it was going to be tough playing without Trez,” Rozier said after making 9 of 16 from the field and 11 of 13 from the foul line. “It was big losing him, so we all had to step up. I wasn’t the only one making shots. We all did something.”
Rozier closed Louisville’s scoring with five free throws down the stretch that followed three 3-pointers to quash the Hilltoppers’ hopes of seizing momentum following Harrell’s exit with 38.7 seconds remaining in the first half. The preseason first-team All-American was assessed a flagrant-2 foul for throwing an elbow following a shoving match after a loose ball scramble.
After the officials reviewed video, Harrell was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul and ejected. Western Kentucky’s D.J. Clayton received a technical foul, along with technicals issued to both benches.
Harrell departed with 14 points and six rebounds and apologized to his teammates at halftime. He was remorseful after the game and said his outburst “was spur of the moment. It was a heated situation in a dog pile and it took a turn for the worst, honestly. It was just a bad day. … I know I shouldn’t have reacted in that way and I’m truly sorry and apologize for the way I reacted.”
Louisville’s top player then asked Cardinal teammates to pick things up in his absence.
Chris Jones added 10 points for Louisville (10-0), which made 5 of 10 from long range in the second half to keep a safe cushion against WKU (5-5). Freshman 7-footer Anas Mahmoud added six points and five rebounds as the Cardinals outrebounded their in-state rival 37-35 and made 26 of 30 free throws.
“We always talk about keeping a level head no matter what the environment may be,” Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson said afterward in place of head coach Rick Pitino. “Montrezl owned up to his part in the mistake and that’s what happens in everyday life as well as in basketball, people make mistakes.
“Basketball is a game of adverse situations and that was an adverse situation that we had to overcome.”
T.J. Price scored 24 points and D.J. Clayton 14 for the Hilltoppers, who got within 73-67 with 39 seconds left before Rozier added three free throws to seal the victory in a game was at times ragged and chippy.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with (Louisville missing) Montrezl,” WKU coach Ray Harper said. “It had to do with us missing free throws on the front end with one-and-ones. You can’t beat good teams and shoot 60 percent from the free-throw line.”
Louisville: Rozier also had five rebounds and three steals. … The Cardinals evened the series at 39 wins each.
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers trailed 29-24 at halftime, their lowest first-half total this season. WKU scored 26 points against Bowling Green on Dec. 3.
Besides Harrell earning his first career ejection, WKU’s Clayton received a technical foul for his part in the first-half tussle. T.J. Price and Louisville’s Mangok Mathiang received second-half technicals.
Jones called “crazy” a social media buzz this week that the Memphis native would transfer to play for the hometown Tigers. “My high school coach called me to ask was I transferring and I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ” the senior guard said. “I haven’t done anything to get kicked off the team. … It is what it is, trying to get us off focus.”
Louisville: Hosts Cal State Northridge on Tuesday.
Western Kentucky: Hosts Brescia (Kentucky) on Saturday.
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