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Men’s Basketball: Nash helps Irish down Rutgers

Chris Hine | Tuesday, March 10, 2009

NEW YORK – Sophomore forward Tyrone Nash pulled the microphone as close to his mouth as he could to answer a question in Notre Dame’s postgame press conference following its 61-50 win over Rutgers in the first round of the Big East tournament on Tuesday

When he spoke, all that came from the speakers of the press room was a deafening noise, causing most in the room to cover their ears and Nash to readjust his microphone while his teammates and coach laughed.

It was a common mistake for someone new to the big stage of Madison Square Garden, but Nash didn’t show such na’veté when he went to the line for the front end of a one-and-one with 58.9 seconds left, and sank both free throws to seal Notre Dame’s victory. The points helped Notre Dame (18-13) ward off a late Rutgers (11-21) run and give the Irish a seven-point lead, one that was too large for the Scarlet Knights to overcome.

“I was concentrating on going to the line and knocking them down,” said Nash, a 49 percent free-throw shooter coming into Tuesday’s game. “Coach [Mike Brey] trusted me, keep me in the game late. I wanted to reward him with two free throws.”

Nash rewarded his coach with more than those free throws.

On a night when leading scorer Luke Harangody struggled to, as he said, “throw it in the ocean,” [he shot 3-for-17 from the field] Nash provided relief, in the form of nine points, solid post defense and by hitting five of his six free throws.

“Nash won us the game, I feel …” senior guard Kyle McAlarney said.

Brey said the free throws capped an evolution for Nash at the charity stripe that’s lasted the entire season.

“I know he’s missed a couple at our place, but I’m shocked he’s missing them,” Brey said. “Whereas in November and December, I’d be shocked if he made them.”

As for the rest of Nash’s teammates, their approach to Saturday’s game was similar to first time the two teams played in South Bend, when Notre Dame’s defense propelled the Irish to a 70-65 win as the offense struggled.

Tory Jackson led the Irish on Tuesday with just 12 points, while McAlarney added 11. Notre Dame mixed a 2-3 zone with man-to-man defense, and held the Scarlet Knights to fewer points than any Big East team the Irish faced all season.

“We had to defend to win the game,” Brey said. “I told our guys keeping them at 50 points was the key to us winning it because [Rutgers] really defended us well.”

Brey would’ve liked to play more zone and save his team’s legs for later games in the tournament. But an early Rutgers run in the second half, when the Scarlet Knights cut Notre Dame’s nine-point halftime lead to one at 33-32 within the first five minutes, forced Brey’s hand.

“I was hoping we could stay in zone a little longer tonight like we did against St. John’s …” Brey said. “The only way we were going to win the game was by manning up and playing man-to-man.”

Tory Jackson helped spark a 12-0 Notre Dame run to put Notre Dame ahead 45-32 and Jackson helped keep Rutgers from getting too close the rest of the way, hitting key shots and assisting others down the stretch.

Harangody sat out the final minutes after scoring just seven points, resting for Wednesday’s matchup at 7 p.m. against No. 7 seed West Virginia, who knocked off Notre Dame 79-68 in Morgantown on Feb. 18.

The Irish will need Harangody at his best, since his team likely needs to win at least two more games to put itself in the mix on Selection Sunday.

After the game, Brey made his best case that the Irish deserve a spot in the 65-team field.

“The four No. 1 seeds that [ESPN college basketball analyst] Joe Lunardi has up there, we played six games,” Brey said. “Has that ever happened before in three on the road, two at home and one at a neutral site?

“We have 13 losses. Do we have a bad loss? Look at it and tell me if we really have a bad loss. We don’t have enough good wins. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve got work to do. But we will make it interesting again. That’s what we said when we came here. You got to get the first one to make it interesting.”