Russ Smith returned to the scene of his youth Thursday, another basketball court in New York City, taking center stage at Madison Square Garden, returning as a third-team All America player, proving he belongs among the elite.
The Brooklyn native, who was ignored by Syracuse during the recruitment process and resisted efforts to force him to go to Manhattan College after his freshman year, finally came back home, leading the University of Louisville basketball team to a 74-55 win over Villanova in the first round of the Big East Tournament.
Russ would finally get Louisville on the scoreboard after a rough-and-tumble four mnutes into the game, finding Wayne Blackshear open in a corner for a three-point basket. Having established himself as a passer, Russ would go on to hit seven of 12 shots, including four of six three-point attempts, and 10 of 11 free throws to lead all scorers with 28 points.
Smith would also make six turnovers but only his coach and the official stats crew were taking note and there was nothing either of them could do about it. Russ was home, playing his game as only he can, making life hell for the opposition.
- Luke Hancock, whose three-point buzzer beaters knocked Villanova out of the NCAA when he played for George Mason two years ago, returned to haunt the Wildcats, knocking down three of five shots five of six free throws for 12 points. Was he really playing point guard at the end?
- Peyton Siva playing like a senior who just wants to enjoy the end of his college basketball career, slapping at the ball as often as he wants, seemingly without repercussions from a laid back Big East officiating crew. Relaxing. Perfect looking three of five three-point shots, accumulating 10 points.
- Gorgui Dieng unable to add to a string of double doubles, but providing an intimidating presence, just too much for Villanova to overcome beneath the basket. Credited with only three rebounds and zero blocks, however.
- Chane Behanan is out there because he’s so wide, not because he’s a scoring threat, wearing people down physically until he finally gets that awe-inspiring dunk.
- Stephan Van Treese for much the same reason but getting eight rebounds in 15 minutes in this game. Officials disrespecting him for standing still with his hands straight up and taking a charge, but getting called for a block.
Russ Smith will see to it that everybody has a good time in New York. This is his town.