ND Basketball: Irish reverse Tournament fortunes
Fran Tolan | Friday, March 21, 2008
Denver, Co. — In Notre Dame’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Winthrop last season, the Irish fell into a big hole they were unable to dig out of. The Irish fell behind 46-30 early in the second half and were not able to recover even after mounting a late charge.
This year, the story was similar but this time it was the Irish burying an opponent. The Irish scored 17 unanswered points to open up a 23-7 first-half lead over George Mason Thursday. The Patriots never cut the score to less than a 12-point deficit.
The difference in Notre Dame’s second Tournament try?
“Last year we came into the game against Winthrop and I think we were playing not to lose, and kinda holding back a little bit,” Irish forward Luke Harangody said. “Tonight, you know, we just went for it…not holding anything back. And I think that set the tone for the whole game.”
Harangody’s early energy was evident as the big man scored five points in under three minutes to begin the game. Notre Dame also lit it up from the perimeter in the opening period, nailing four triples during the 17-0 run.
But despite the offensive outburst, Kyle McAlarney said that earlier in the week, the Irish focused on other aspects of the game.
“We wanted to come into the game and really get back to rebounding because that really helps us get out into transition and that’s where we’re at our best,” McAlarney said. “So defense and rebounding were really our only two keys to the game.”
The team responded by dominating in those areas of the contest, as well.
The Irish finished with a 42-34 edge on the glass and held the Patriots to 50 points, including just 21 in the first half.
“I think our defense was the story of the game,” a smiling Mike Brey said in the post-game press conference.
George Mason made just 3-of-17 3-pointers as the Irish answered their coach’s challenge to shut down the Patriots attack.
The Irish also won the battle down low with George Mason’s physical frontcourt as forwards Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland locked down George Mason Folarin Campbell. The Patriots senior came into the contest averaging 15.8 points per game but Notre Dame held him to five points on 1-of-12 shooting from the field.
“They played great defense,” Campbell said. “…I tip my hat off to Notre Dame and their defense.”
That suffocating defense suggests that the Irish were far from the intimidated Tournament newcomers they admit they were against Winthrop a season ago.
“We’re a very different team than we were last year,” Brey said.