Players get frustrated, but Montrezl Harrell is too important to Louisville's hopes this season to be throwing elbows.
The junior was ejected during a 76-67 win over Western Kentucky Saturday, a relatively meaningless game that could prove devastating if it holds him out from future contests. A preseason first-team All-American, Harrell got wrapped up by multiple defenders with less than a minute left in the first half.
According to reports, Blows were exchanged, with players shoving each other after the play was whistled to a stop. Harrell swung an elbow in a move that was dangerously close to being called a punch.
If the referees had decided it was a punch, he would have suffered an automatic suspension the next game and could have been levied an even longer suspension if Atlantic Coast Conference officials deemed it necessary. That would have been especially troublesome since Louisville plays instate rival Kentucky at home in the biggest game of the season next Saturday.
After a review, Harrell was given a flagrant foul 2 and thrown out of the game. That doesn't carry an automatic suspension, according to ESPN, but can warrant further punishment by the conference if the league decides it is necessary.
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Too crucial to lose
Even before being thrown out, Harrell had already tallied a first half total of 14 points and six rebounds. He has been a pivotal piece of Louisville's title contending team, which means he needs to keep his cool or risk what could be a special season.
To be clear, this is the first time Harrell has been tossed from a game. His character is not in question here; just his judgment in a single moment.
And he did apologize to the team during halftime of the game.
But there have to be limits to the edge Harrell brings to each and every game, even if it is also what makes his play so inspiring.
That means not responding violently when lesser players, such as the Hilltoppers Avery Patterson, provoke him.
In-state rivalry looming
Louisville has gone 10-0 to start the year, with big wins over No. 14 OSU (64-55) and Indiana (94-74). The Cardinals will play the CS Northridge Matadors on Tuesday, before facing off against No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday.
The rivalry game would set the tone for the rest of the season, probably launching Louisville into a top ranking and making them the early favorites to win it at all. But until that game happens, Kentucky holds that title with its 10-deep squad of All American talent.