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Men’s Basketball: On the rebound

Chris Hine | Thursday, January 15, 2009

When Rob Kurz graduated last spring, he took his 7.3 rebounds per game with him. Kurz, along with forward Luke Harangody, helped the Irish attain the fourth-best rebounding margin in conference play.

Last season, the Irish out-rebounded Big East opponents by just over three boards per game. This season, Notre Dame is tenth in the league.

Since Kurz’s departure, the Irish have tried to replace his presence on the glass at both ends of the floor, but at times, they have struggled despite having the league’s leading rebounder in Harangody (14.0 per Big East game).

The Irish lost two games this season that could have been avoided with better rebounding performances – a 71-65 loss to St. John’s and a 67-62 loss to Ohio State. In each game, the Irish were out-rebounded, and dug themselves into a hole by allowing crucial offensive boards at pivotal moments in the second half.

“[The loss to] St. John’s was just not paying attention to details,” senior Zach Hillesland said. “The rebounding was the big thing there. They got to the offensive boards a lot and they got a lot of confidence because of that.”

After the St. John’s loss, Notre Dame recommitted itself to rebounding and saw some improvement. The Irish went toe-to-toe on the glass with Georgetown in a win at the Joyce Center and demolished Seton Hall on the boards in another victory.

“I mean, we’re never going to be a team where you go, ‘We’re plus-10 in a Big East game.’ We just can’t make it be something that shreds us,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “For the most part since I’ve been here, we’ve just not been this crushing rebounding team. We’ve been competent and we haven’t been beaten up there too much.”

Then came Louisville, who put up 19 second-chance points and out-rebounded the Irish 48-43 against Notre Dame Monday in an 87-73 Cardinals overtime win.

“I think we held our own there,” Brey said. “We didn’t out-rebound them, but it was kind of a draw. But it didn’t beat us. The offensive board beat us at St. John’s and Ohio State. There’s two losses where that was really the culprit of it all.”

Louisville grabbed 16 offensive boards, but some of those came as a result of long rebounds from missed jump shots. Twice in the second half, Notre Dame was trying to build on a small lead, but long rebounds helped set up three-pointers from Andre McGee and Jerry Smith that cut into the Irish advantage.

“Sometimes you do the job to be in position to rebound the basketball and you don’t get a good bounce,” Brey said. “And then you’ve got to scramble out and match up and do the best you can. We’ve made a living off of offensive rebound threes. When it happens to us, I can relate. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen too much.”

Harangody said there’s still no excuse for allowing these types of boards to get away.

“It’s not bad luck. We still need to grab loose balls because that’s going to be the difference because a couple of those loose balls they grabbed and then hit some threes,” Harangody said.

Hillesland added: “You’ve got to focus on every play and it can be tough because sometimes you’re natural instinct on the perimeter is when a guy puts up a shot instead of blocking him out you want to go in where you think the action’s going to be, which is inside. But a lot of times a ball will come out and those can be backbreaking plays on the road when a team can get an offensive rebound and knock down a three.”

One constant on the boards this year for the Irish has been Harangody, whether he’s grabbing long or short rebounds, offensive or defensive.

“The rebounding numbers that he has are staggering given that he’s playing against NBA bodies,” Brey said. “Our league has NBA bodies. Other leagues don’t so I think it’s impressive what he’s doing on the backboard against that kind of length and athletic ability.”

Coming up Saturday, Notre Dame will likely need another strong effort from Harangody and the rest of the Irish, as they take on a Syracuse team that’s third in the conference in rebounding margin thanks to Paul Harris (8.3 rebounds per game) and Arinze Onuaku (7.8). That duo gave Notre Dame a handful at the Joyce Center last season, out-rebounding Notre Dame 51-33.

“Here we go again Saturday with a big front line. Can we do it?” Brey said. “We’ve got to rebound out of zone, we’ve got to rebound out of man. Our guards have to help us. When we do that, we always have a chance to win.”