Chris Hine | Friday, February 13, 2009
In the second half, Irish forward Luke Harangody went to pass the ball inside to forward Ryan Ayers, but the pass was too much for Ayers to handle.
No matter. The ball bounced off Ayers, off the backboard and into the basket.
“It was a good pass,” Harangody said.
It was that kind of game for Notre Dame (13-10, 4-7 Big East) in its much-needed, cathartic 90-57 win over No. 5/7 Louisville (18-5, 9-2 Big East). It was a night where Notre Dame could do no wrong after suffering through a seven-game losing streak where they could seemingly do no right.
The smiling Irish lingered for a while after the game and celebrated with their fans, as they welcomed back the prodigal feeling of winning.
“This is what we play basketball for,” senior Kyle McAlarney said. “This feeling right now, we appreciate it so much right now. I think we found our rhythm a little bit. What a feeling, to finally get one, this is what we were looking for.”
Irish coach Mike Brey added: “To say we needed that I think would be the understatement of the year.”
But Thursday night’s win was more than luck. Luke Harangody had 32 points and 17 rebounds and Notre Dame played the type of basketball its fans have waited to see for the past seven games – effective offense combined with shut-down defense and a commitment to rebounding.
“The last couple of practices were intense, everybody was on everybody. No let up,” said Irish guard Tory Jackson, who finished with 14 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals.
The win was the largest margin of victory for a Mike Brey-coached team in Big East play. During their losing streak, the Irish could never put together 40 minutes of consistent play. That wasn’t the case Thursday.
The Irish out-rebounded Louisville 48-28, while the 57 points Notre Dame allowed were the fewest its allowed since beating Savannah State 81-49 on Dec. 22.
“I thought our post defense was the best it was all year,” Brey said.
The strong effort, Brey said, came from the intensity the team developed during practice when Brey told them they would be playing man-to-man defense no matter what.
“When you’ve gone through what we’ve gone through … if you’re going to make your stand and dig your heels in the ground, you’re not doing it in a 2-3 zone tonight,” Brey said. “You’re locking up on guys, putting your chest on people, battling in the paint like we did. You’re not sitting in a zone.”
Notre Dame held Louisville to just 19 first-half points and didn’t let up in the second half. Offensively, Notre Dame was clicking inside and out. Harangody earned points seemingly at will and featured a number of running hook shots in the lane.
But even when Notre Dame was in its losing streak, Harangody was the one constant. What was missing was the sharpshooting of Ayers and senior guard Kyle McAlarney. Against Louisville, McAlarney scored 21, while Ayers had 19, and the two combined to shoot 10-for-16 from 3-point range. McAlarney and Ayers lit up the Cardinals during a 15-4 second-half run where Notre Dame’s lead ballooned to 30 for the first time.
Ayers hit a three to start the run, followed by a Harangody fadeaway. McAlarney then came down on a fast break and had the option to give it to Harangody, who was open with his arms flailing, calling for the ball underneath, but passed it up in favor of a three. The three swished.
Ayers canned another three on Notre Dame’s next possession. Then, euphoria set in at the Joyce Center when McAlarney hit a three from the corner, got fouled, and was almost tackled by an overly exuberant Jackson.
“A lot of emotions, a lot of emotions,” Jackson said of the near-takedown. “For him to get in a rhythm like that, he hasn’t been going like that in a few games, for him to feel it and to get that 4-point play, I forgot he was my teammate for a second. It was like were playing football, it was amazing.”
Notre Dame took a few minutes to find its offensive rhythm in the first half, and led 8-4 before a head up play by Jackson sparked the Irish. After Louisville forward Terrence Williams grabbed a rebound off a McAlarney miss, Jackson came from behind to steal it. He waited as McAlarney made his way back down the floor before dishing it to him for McAlarney’s first three. The score was 11-4 with 15:04 to play in the first half and the rout was on.
Earl Clark led Louisville with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Samardo Samuels added 10.
“A few years ago we had to win eight out of 10 of our games and our guys dug in like Notre Dame dug in,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. I think Notre Dame could do the same thing. These guys are terrific young men and I hope they rally the same way we did two years ago.”
uDespite pledging after Saturday’s 89-63 loss to UCLA that all starting spots would be up for grabs, Brey had his starting five already figured out, the five that started the majority of games this season, Ayers, McAlarney, Harangody, Jackson and Hillesland.
“I was just kidding you guys in Los Angeles,” Brey said to the media. “We needed to get back to our starters … That’s a no-brainer, we had to go back to our nucleus. You’re coming back home. That nucleus of guys have won a lot of games for us and played well together and that nucleus gets us into that offensive rhythm that we need to compete in this league.”
uSophomore Tyrone Nash played 14 minutes Thursday, scored zero points but grabbed six rebounds. Brey said he liked what he saw from Nash, and that his play may be a product of getting kicked out of practice on Sunday. Nash may have been the unfortunate one to incur the wrath of Brey on Sunday, but it may have helped on Thursday.