Heavy heart propels Russ Smith to big game

NEW YORK - University of Louisville junior guard Russ Smith played with a heavy heart on Thursday night after the passing of his high school coach – and New York prep school legend Jack Curran – earlier in the day. And Smith didn't disappoint.

Smith, who said he spend about 45 minutes crying after he heard the news, put on a show in Madison Square Gardens.

The junior guard hit 7 of 12 from the field, 10 of 11 from the free-throw line and finished with 28 points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals as Louisville smashed Villanova 74-55 in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

"It was really hard on me," Smith said. "It was almost heartbreaking to think about it. It was more internal for me because everybody knew about it.

"I just wanted to win and do anything I could to win. It was definitely coach Curran day for me, and it will be for the rest of my life."

Curran, who was 82, spent more than a half century at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens. Smith attended the school before going to prep school, noting "coach Curran taught me a whole lot."

"He meant everything to me," Smith went on to say. "I am going to miss him."

Smith sure did a good job of honoring his former coach.

He posted a tribute to Curran on his InstaGram prior to the game, spent a few minutes in warm ups by himself and then stole the show.

Smith had seven points in the first half but was a catalyst of the U of L defense that forced 18 turnovers and had 38 deflections in the first 20 minutes.

He hit 3 of 4 three-pointers in the second half to help the Cards pull away.

"Russ had a heavy heart," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "I just told Russ that he has to play this tournament and the NCAA for coach Curran. Coach Curran really enjoyed coaching Russ, and I really enjoy coaching Russ.

"But we both knew what he was all about. So, it's very exciting that Russ could have that type of game and honor his coach like that."

Smith did sprain his left ankle a bit in the first half, going in for a layup and getting fouled. He stayed in the game – hit the two free throws – and then went out and had trainer Fred Hina re-tape the ankle.

"I twisted it pretty bad," Smith said. "I went back out there and put everything aside. We had a Big East game going on, so I just tried to finish."

And he did it for his former coach.

"I'm going to miss him every day," Smith said. "Every day."

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