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Basketball: WVU knocks out Irish

Chris Hine | Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NEW YORK — Possession after possession, Notre Dame came up empty in the first half while 3-pointer after 3-pointer went in for West Virginia. And an Irish team that had chance after chance to salvage its season let the last one slip away Wednesday as West Virginia sent Notre Dame home with a 74-62 loss at Madison Square Garden in the second round of the Big East tournament.

“We wanted this really bad, we wanted to make a run,” senior guard Kyle McAlarney said.

There was no miracle run for Notre Dame, who, despite reaching top 10 in the rankings earlier this season, will likely be relegated to the NIT for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

The Irish gave an NIT-worthy performance against the Mountaineers in the first half, when Notre Dame looked as if it had learned little from its previous 79-68 loss to the Mountaineers. A spirited second-half effort from the Irish, led by forward Luke Harangody and his 27 points, was not enough to overcome those dreadful first 20 minutes, when Notre Dame went into the locker room down 18.

In that time, West Virginia dominated every facet of the game. The Mountaineers played effective man-to-man defense. They overplayed their assigned man and made it hard for Notre Dame to pass or develop any kind of rhythm. The Irish were unable to generate any sort of opening from screens and backdoor cuts.

“I thought we did a pretty good job defensively,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “I think the whole tone of the thing was we were very aggressive in the first half. We were very aggressive defensive and trying to rebound the ball.”

McAlarney added: “They’re a very, very good half-court defensive team. They really got out on us. They were defending Harangody pretty well as far as denying him, playing on his high side and denying the ball. It was tough to get entries for him.”

The Mountaineers, meanwhile, had no such trouble against Notre Dame’s defense, and hit most of their open looks from outside. Even though the Mountaineers shot just 14-for-40 (35 percent) in the first half, they were 7-for-14 from 3-point range, 11-for-20 for the game. Guard Alex Ruoff led West Virginia with 25 points, forward Da’Sean Butler had 20. But it was the 17 points from guard Darryl Bryant on 6-of-9 shooting that surprised Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and threw a wrench into Notre Dame’s defensive gameplan.

“Bryant was a guy who we wanted to play off a little bit and maybe be able to help and he made us pay,” Brey said. “I give him credit. He made big shots to start them.”

And like it did in the two teams’ previous meeting, West Virginia dominated the offensive glass. The Mountaineers had 13 offensive rebounds in the first half – Notre Dame had an overall total of 16. Forward Devin Ebanks had 18 rebounds. West Virginia had 11 second-chance points.

“At the end of the day, the offensive board just killed us and it hurt us in Morgantown,” Brey said. “They only shoot [36 percent] and you score 74 points, but the backboard has been an issue with us at different times.”

West Virginia raced out to a 12-2 lead in the first seven minutes and extended that lead to 20-5 on a 3-pointer from Ruoff. Notre Dame kept struggling as West Virginia dominated the boards and stayed hot from the outside. With 3:42 left in the half, West Virginia was ahead 31-11.

“They got off to a great run, runs that we usually can do, and it was a little frustrating at first,” said forward Ryan Ayers, who finished with 11 points.

Notre Dame came out with a renewed sense of urgency in the second half and cut its deficit to nine – then reality set back in, the reality that Notre Dame’s defense struggles to shut down opponents for an extended period of time and come from behind.

By the first media timeout of the half, Notre Dame had cut the lead to 11. But thanks to 3-pointers from Ruoff, Butler and three free throws from Butler, West Virginia rebuilt a 20-point lead by the 11:05 mark.

Notre Dame cut the deficit back to seven with 2:59 left, but a 3-point play from Ruoff bumped the lead back to 10 and time soon ran out in the game and on Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament hopes.