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Men’s Basketball: Showing some swagger

Bill Brink | Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A month ago Notre Dame was 6-8 in conference play, senior forward Luke Harangody was in street clothes and another trip to the NIT seemed imminent.

But that was before Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh and Georgetown, both in the top 15 at the time, before it beat Connecticut on Senior Night, before junior forward Carleton Scott hit a game-tying 3 at the buzzer at Marquette to allow the Irish to win in overtime and before the Irish won two Big East tournament games last week.

The six-game win streak was enough to give Notre Dame (23-11, 10-8) a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which begins Thursday. The selection committee placed the Irish in the South region, and Notre Dame will play in New Orleans against Old Dominion.

“I think it was really powerful how we finished,” Irish coach Mike Brey said Sunday. “We’re really proud of that. I think it says a lot about what this group did to put us in that position.”

The team knew after its success at the end of the season that it would most likely make the Tournament, but getting a No. 6 seed was unexpected.

“I thought we were in the eight or nine range, but to see us get a six, that’s tremendous,” Harangody said. “It just goes towards what we did at the end of the season, what these guys did.”

The Irish made it to the Big East semifinal before losing 53-51 on Friday to West Virginia (27-6, 13-5), which earned a No. 2 seed in the East region. Notre Dame trailed for the entire second half but whittled down the deficit slowly. Irish senior guard Tory Jackson attempted a 3-pointer with five seconds left, but missed.

“Boy, we made a run at it,” Brey said after the game. “And to have a shot, it was kind of a weird game. We were in a hole. But to dig out and have a look, it was pretty good.”

Senior guard Ben Hansbrough led the Irish with 17 points and hit four 3-pointers, and Harangody had 10 points off the bench.

Notre Dame never trailed by more than five in the first half. In the second half, West Virginia led by 10 with 5:23 to go, but two 3-pointers from Hansbrough helped cut the lead to three.

“I mean, we lost to the sixth-ranked team in the country by two points and had a shot to win it,” Hansbrough said after the game. “It just shows how far this team has come.”

Notre Dame fully utilized its new slow offense to beat Pittsburgh 50-45 in the quarterfinals Thursday. Notre Dame only led by two with 1:41 left, but Harangody drew a foul after he rebounded Jermaine Dixon’s layup and sank both free throws to extend the lead to four.

He and Jackson both had 12 points in the game.

Jackson said after the game that he liked the slow style of play Notre Dame had adapted.

“It gives guys great shots, open shots. A lot of teams don’t want to guard for the whole 30, 35 seconds,” he said. “So it kind of wears them down. And if you are knocking shot after shot down like that, some teams will lay down.”

After a first-round bye, Notre Dame dispatched Seton Hall, 68-56, in the second round of the tournament Wednesday. Harangody had 20 points and 10 rebounds, again off the bench.

“The last couple of days of practice have been great for me just to get back in the flow,” Harangody said. “Kind of get my conditioning back up to where it has been.”
The Irish missed the Tournament last season but earned bids each of the previous two years. This year, the team’s confidence is high.

“I think the way we play, we can beat anybody in the country,” Hansbrough said. “And I think we kind of proved that and it got us to where we were. I mean, we were not even in the Tournament and all of a sudden being a six seed in the matter of three weeks, two and a half weeks, stuff like that? It really bounced us back and got our confidence going.”

The gap between the conference and the selection was rough: Bad weather cancelled the flight to South Bend, so the team took a 13-hour bus ride back to campus.

“That’s how we connect as a team, you know,” Jackson said. “We teased each other. We played around with each other.”

Because of the seed and region, Notre Dame was one of the last teams announced, allowing some tension to creep into the Purcell Pavilion where the team watched the selection show.

“To be honest,” Jackson said, “if I would have took off my shirt and squeezed it out, I probably could have filled a bucket.”

But the Irish made it, and now look forward to Old Dominion Thursday.

“You know, I think we’re a very confident team that can’t wait to play,” Brey said. “I’m glad we play Thursday instead of Friday so we get back out on the court. We feel we’re playing pretty well.”