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Men’s Basketball: Ice cold

Chris Hine | Tuesday, January 27, 2009

For the past few years it’s been Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers or Luke Harangody that has delivered the crushing blow on the way to a victory in the Joyce Center. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, it was Jerel McNeal’s turn on Monday.

The Marquette guard scored 27 points, including a crucial 3-pointer to put the Golden Eagles (18-2, 7-0 Big East) up five en route to a 71-64 victory over Notre Dame (12-7, 3-5 Big East).

McNeal’s 3-pointer came with 2:13 left as Harangody came out try to alter the shot. But Harangody got there too late. The shot was right on line.

“Those are shots you always want to take …” McNeal said. “And those are shots that I live and die by, and I wouldn’t want anybody else taking it but me.”

Notre Dame frantically tried to come back, but forced shots down the stretch and Marquette was able to pull away.

McNeal’s three was symbolic of those final few minutes of the game, when Marquette scored key baskets while Notre Dame failed to convert.

“Getting over the hump, possessions at the end, and being a little more poised, I’m disappointed in that down the stretch,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Because I love how we fought to give ourselves a chance to win both of these games, but decisions when it’s a one possession game, chance to take the lead … we had empty possessions that hurt us and against these teams you just can’t have empty possessions.”

For Notre Dame, the story was the same as it was in its loss Saturday to Connecticut: namely, that Harangody needs help on the offensive end.

“I think these two games, we missed some great looks that we usually make, so you can’t re-invent the wheel here,” Brey said. “You hope the law of averages kick in, but you’ve got to keep shooting them.”

The junior forward provided another player of the year-type effort – 29 points on 12-for-22 shooting to go with 17 rebounds – but the rest of the Irish were 12-for-44 (27 percent).

“He can’t do it by himself. It showed,” said junior guard Tory Jackson, who finished with 10 points. “He needs help from everybody and we let him down today.”

Notre Dame will have a hard time beating anybody as long as its go-to sharpshooters, McAlarney and Ayers, continue their cold streaks. McAlarney was 3-for-12 while Ayers was 0-for-7 against the Golden Eagles. Combined, Ayers and McAlarney are 7-for-44 (16 percent) in their last two games. Whereas McAlarney missed multiple open looks against Connecticut, Marquette’s Dominic James and Maurice Acker just defended him well, he said.

“I was working so hard tonight,” McAlarney said. “They did a good job tonight of staying with me the whole time. I must’ve gone back door hundreds of times. Acker and James, really, hats off to them. It’s hard when you get a look and after working so hard, I was pretty tired there at one point. It’s hard to knock them down.”

Brey added: “I feel for Ryan Ayers … He’s in a tough stretch. He’s got to make shots for us and has.”

Notre Dame’s much-maligned defense once again kept it in the game. It held Marquette to just 33 first-half points and went into the locker room down by three. For most of the second half, the defensive intensity continued to keep Marquette in check.

“Defensively, we gave ourselves a chance, these last two games,” Brey said. “It’s key decisions and a little more shot making quite frankly.”

The offensive woes prevented the Irish from taking a sizable lead throughout the game, not just in the waning minutes.

Harangody, almost through sheer force of will, kept Notre Dame close in the first half. He had 17 points and eight rebounds while his supporting cast struggled to find its touch.

Harangody used every weapon in his arsenal to score on the Golden Eagles. He hit a 3-pointer to give the Irish an early lead. With Notre Dame down seven, he hit a fade-away jumper from the corner with the shot clock expiring to keep Marquette from getting a bigger lead.

That trend continued in the second half, when Harangody went to the fade-away multiple times to try and bail out his teammates.

Even when Notre Dame did get a spark, in the form of two second-half 3-pointers from junior guard Jonathan Peoples, and got the crowd on its feet, the Golden Eagles responded. Notre Dame never scored more than five consecutive points the entire second half.

Contrary to Harangody, McNeal had help. James finished with 15 points (and nine rebounds), Lazar Hayward had 13 and Wesley Matthews had 16. Tory Jackson was the only other Notre Dame player in double figures (10 points).

Notre Dame is now staring a 3-6 Big East record in the face, as it travels to 6-1 Pittsburgh on Saturday.


u Brey shook up the starting lineup Monday, as he replaced Ayers and the struggling Zach Hillesland with Peoples and Luke Zeller. Zeller contributed eight points and eight rebounds. Hillesland played only 11 minutes, due in part to a sprained ankle, Brey said. Tyrone Nash also saw his first significant minutes in Big East play. He played eight minutes, and grabbed two rebounds.