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ND Basketball: A double shot of T-Jack

Fran Tolan | Friday, February 22, 2008

Tory Jackson is a mere 5-foot-11.

But he played as if he was a foot taller than that Thursday as Notre Dame came from behind to beat Pittsburgh 82-70 at the Joyce Center.

In a matchup between the two best rebounding teams in the Big East, the Irish point guard grabbed 13 rebounds to go with his 16 points and five assists.

“He’s got great athletic ability and strength and he’s got such a will about him and heart,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “He’s a winner. He really is a winner.”

Notre Dame trailed 58-53 with just over eight minutes to play when Jackson took the ball coast-to-coast for a layup. The sophomore appeared to lose control of the ball but managed to keep his dribble and spin through two Pittsburgh defenders before converting the basket.

“I tried to cross over and I lost the ball because the ball was so grippy and my hands are so small – I ain’t got no big man hands,” Jackson said. “I ended up getting it back – I thought I lost it – and I spun because the [defender] tried to cut me off. I just ended up spinning and I saw a wide open basket.”

Jackson’s bucket began a 22-6 run that turned the tide of the game and gave the Irish a 75-64 lead with 1:50 remaining in the contest. The spurt was capped off with two free throws by junior forward Ryan Ayers, who had drilled a 3-pointer two minutes earlier.

“I told [Ayers] to be more aggressive offensively,” Brey said. “That was a huge [3-pointer] up top.”

With 6:54 left to play, Irish junior guard Kyle McAlarney drilled a 3-pointer to cut Notre Dame’s deficit to one point. Less than a minute later, McAlarney hit another trey to tie the score at 61-61. Before draining those two deep shots, McAlarney had made just 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

“When I got my first good look of the second half, I just put it up and it went in,” said McAlarney. “I’m kind of a streak shooter. If I hit one I know that kinda gets me going a little bit and makes me feel good, helps me get into a rhythm on both ends of the court.”

Brey said he was pleased that McAlarney never stopped hunting for shots.

“The one bomb he took to kind of break their backs, that wasn’t a great shot but I loved that he took it because of the belief,” Brey said.

McAlarney scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half.

On the Pittsburgh possession after McAlarney’s game-tying 3-pointer, Irish forward Luke Harangody stole a pass by Panthers forward Tyrell Biggs at the top of the key. Harangody, who finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, cruised to the other end of the floor for a two-handed dunk that gave Notre Dame its first lead of the second half.

“I saw his eyes and I just made a gamble and went for it and luckily got it,” Harangody said. “Throwing that one down felt real good.”

There were 11 lead changes in the first half but Pittsburgh made a run at the end of the period to go into the locker room with the 35-30 lead.

Notre Dame led 28-27 with 3:39 remaining in the half but Pittsburgh guard Gilbert Brown hit a jumper to give the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish until Harangody’s slam. Pittsburgh guard Keith Benjamin knocked down a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to give the Panthers the 5-point advantage.

After the break, Pittsburgh built on its lead and was up by 10 with 17:42 to play in the contest.

But the Panthers could not close out Notre Dame as most of the Joyce Center fans stood and cheered throughout the second half. The Irish notched their 35th straight home win in front of the boisterous crowd.

“It was the loudest I ever heard it get in there tonight,” Harangody said. “That’s a great thing to have. It definitely helps a lot.”

Brey agreed with Harangody, saying that the home fans gave the Irish the boost they needed to overtake the Panthers.

“It’s a state of mind that you believe you’re gonna find a way here,” Brey said. “When you play here in this crowd, you can play through fatigue better than the road team. And we did that tonight.”

Irish senior captain Rob Kurz scored 14 points as the Irish improved to 20-5 overall and 10-3 in the Big East.

Note:

uNotre Dame honored Irish all-time leading scorer Austin Carr with a video tribute at halftime. Carr scored 40 points or more 23 times during his three-year varsity career and was named a consensus All America and the AP/UPI Player of the Year in 1970-71. In an emotional speech, Carr said the greatest experience of his life was playing for Notre Dame. After the ceremony, he walked off the court to chants of “We love Austin.”