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Men’s Basketball: Irish avoid upset in Piscataway

Chris Khorey | Monday, February 18, 2008

Luke Harangody struggled mightily, but sophomore Tory Jackson’s big game and a key blunder by Rutgers allowed No. 18 Notre Dame to escape Piscataway, N.J., with a 71-68 road win Sunday.

The sophomore, who was averaging more than 20 points a game, was stymied by the Scarlet Knight defense all day. He finished the game with only 10 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

Harangody even had a chance to redeem his day with 15 seconds remaining. The Irish led 69-68, and the forward stepped to the free-throw line for a one-and-one and a chance to put the lead at three points.

Harangody missed on the front end, but the ball ricocheted out of bounds off three Scarlet Knights.

On the ensuing Notre Dame possession, junior guard Kyle McAlarney drained two free throws. Scarlet Knight Corey Chandler missed a desperation 3, and the Irish left Piscataway with the win.

Jackson was a bright spot on an otherwise ugly day for Notre Dame (19-5, 9-3 Big East). The sophomore point guard had 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds – two boards shy of his first triple-double.

“My opportunities came and I knocked down some shots,” Jackson said by phone after the game.

Jackson’s biggest play came with less than a minute remaining and the Irish clinging to a 67-66 lead. He nearly lost the ball between a double-team but recovered enough to get it to senior forward Rob Kurz, who knocked down a wide-open jumper for a three-point lead.

“I was driving and the guy reached in and knocked it away,” Jackson said. “They thought it was going to be a steal. … It went through my legs and nobody grabbed it, so I tipped it up and bounced passed it to Rob.”

Kurz, who battled the flu last week, finished the game with 11 points and 14 rebounds.

“He knocked down some big shots,” Jackson said of Kurz. “That’s what he does on a daily basis.”

Notre Dame started slow but used a 12-3 run midway through the first half to open up a 10-point lead at 34-24. The Irish led by eight, 42-34, at halftime.

In the second half, the Piscataway crowd came alive as their team went on a 14-2 run to take a five-point lead at 55-50 with 11:11 remaining.

The Scarlet Knights held the advantage for five minutes until a tip-in by Harangody and back-to-back 3-pointers by Kurz and McAlarney put the Irish ahead 65-57 with six minutes to play.

After Kurz’s jumper, two free throws by Rutgers guard Anthony Farmer brought the Notre Dame lead back to one at 69-68.

Farmer, who scored 16 points, and forward J.R. Inman, who scored 14, led Rutgers (10-17, 2-12 Big East).

Notre Dame will put its 34-game Joyce Center winning streak on the line Thursday against Pittsburgh.

Notes:

uThe win moved the Irish into a tie for third place in the Big East with Connecticut. At 9-3, the Irish and Huskies are a half-game back of conference co-leaders Georgetown and Louisville.

Like Notre Dame, Connecticut struggled with a Big East bottom-feeder this weekend, defeating lowly South Florida 74-73 in overtime Saturday.

uThe Irish wore their blue road uniforms Sunday. Notre Dame is just 2-4 in blue this season – with wins over Monmouth and Rutgers and losses to Marquette, Georgetown, Baylor, and Georgia Tech.

By contrast, Notre Dame is 2-1 wearing its alternate road black uniforms, with wins over Villanova and Seton Hall and a loss to Connecticut.

The Irish are 15-0 wearing white this season, with 14 home wins and a victory over Kansas State in Madison Square Garden.