Men’s Basketball: Sliding down the mountain
Fran Tolan | Thursday, February 19, 2009
On Wednesday night at West Virginia, Notre Dame came out playing like it had in back-to-back wins over Louisville and South Florida. Unfortunately for the Irish, they couldn’t keep it up.
After Notre Dame (14-11, 5-8 Big East) jumped out to a 16-6 lead and forced West Virginia coach Bob Huggins to call two timeouts early in the first half, the Mountaineers (18-8, 7-6) stormed back and eventually secured a 79-68 win on their home floor.
“We couldn’t get into a rhythm, and I think their defense, you’ve got to give them a little credit, too,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in a press conference after the game.
Irish senior shooting guard Kyle McAlarney scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in the first six minutes as Notre Dame built its 10-point edge. But West Virginia closed the gap quickly and cut the deficit to four with 9:45 left in the first half.
The Mountaineers ended the period with a 6-0 run to take a 42-40 at halftime.
West Virginia never trailed after intermission. With 16:03 left, Irish junior Luke Harangody knocked down two free throws to cut his team’s deficit to three, but Notre Dame never got closer than that.
Harangody finished with a game-high 26 points but McAlarney, who netted 12 points, was the only other Irish player to score in double figures.
“We kept digging, we gave ourselves a chance to come back,” Brey said. “We had some great looks here in the second half. I thought we’d score a little bit more in the second half the way we scored in the first half, but they’re long and athletic and they’re kind of hard to keep off the board.”
Mountaineers guard Alex Ruoff led West Virginia with 24 points, including four 3-pointers. Ruoff nailed a baseline jumper with just over 12 minutes left to give the Mountaineers a 12-point lead.
“He gave them confidence,” Brey said. “When we had him finally missing a few, we couldn’t clean up the backboard and get a rebound. He’s one of the better players, a first-team all-league guy, and he’s one of the guys that’s making them go right now – a very confident player.”
After holding their own under the basket against Louisville and South Florida, the Irish were outrebounded 40-28 against West Virginia. The Mountaineers edged Notre Dame 16-6 in second-chance points. On one possession early in the second half, West Virginia grabbed four offensive rebounds before finally scoring. The home team also had 15 points off turnovers to Notre Dame’s eight.
“They hurt us on the backboard,” Brey said. “That was the real issue, not being able to control the backboard as good as we did at home, and that kind of cost us.”
The Mountaineers built a 17-point lead with less than a minute left and sent the Irish packing.
Notre Dame will head to Providence Saturday. The Friars also went down Wednesday, losing 94-76 to Louisville.
A season after going 14-4 in conference play, the Irish must win four of their final five games to finish their Big East slate with a .500 record.
“You can’t hang your head, and this group won’t,” Brey said. “They’ll keep competing and battling.”