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Irish cope with loss of NCAA Tournament hopes

Chris Hine | Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NEW YORK — As Irish coach Mike Brey walked back with Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson to Notre Dame’s locker room following its loss to West Virginia, he told his players to “keep smiling.”

But no amount of clichés or smiles can conceal the fact that Notre Dame will likely not be going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons.

The only consolation for Notre Dame’s pain is the possibility of claiming an NIT title and, in their words, “hang a banner” in the Joyce Center.

“Coach Brey he whispered to me as soon as I came off the court that we’re going to go for an NIT championship and try to get a banner,” senior guard Kyle McAlarney said. “That’s what I’m trying to focus on right now. I don’t want to dwell on this or feel sorry for myself.”

It’s bittersweet consolation for a team that reached the top 10 in the rankings earlier this season. But Jackson said he feels no regrets.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” Jackson said. “We still get a chance to play so the season didn’t go our way maybe but things happen. This is college basketball. I’m not disappointed at all. I love all my teammates and the coaches so just to have the opportunity to continue to play is good for me.”

Harangody shared the same sentiment.

“This season maybe didn’t go as we expected it at the beginning,” Harangody said. “We never gave up. We went on a seven-game losing streak at one point. We could have just laid down. We kept fighting and we stayed together as a group because we’re such a tight-knit team.”

For senior forward Ryan Ayers, there will be disappointment, it just hasn’t set in yet.

“I don’t think it probably hit us yet. It probably won’t until we find out our matchup,” Ayers said. “But with all our ups and downs this year, we’re just going to take it for what it’s worth.”

Notre Dame couldn’t live up to its lofty preseason expectations, expectations Brey thought were too high.

“I don’t know with all the – some of the preseason stuff had some real interesting predictions for us. I don’t know quite frankly if I believed in all of those,” Brey said. “And you’ve seen us play in the Big East and you know where we’re at. I really thought we were a 9-9 team in the regular season before the season started.

“I told my staff if we can pull off 9-9 giving who we were going to repeat and who we were going to have to play, playing the A schedule, we got 8-10 and could never quite get the next quality win. We got to the edge of it and would never really get it.”

Disappointed or not, Notre Dame still has basketball left to play, but getting ready for the NIT could prove a difficult task for underclassmen who have grown accustomed to playing in the Big Dance. That’s something Ayers said the seniors must tend to over the next week.

“I think since we’re mature, we can’t get uptight about it,” Ayers said. “We get to keep playing with each other and I know I don’t want the season to end, speaking on behalf of the seniors, that’s kind of our psyche going in and going forward.”

The Irish are going forward, just not to their desired destination.