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Little things help Irish beat Eagles

Joe Meixell | Monday, February 26, 2007

It’s easy to look at a stat sheet and say why the Irish defeated Marquette Saturday at the Joyce Center. Yes, forward Luke Harangody and guard Tory Jackson teamed up for 43 points for the Irish, and yes, the Irish held Marquette to just 36 percent shooting, but these numbers don’t tell the whole story.

The impressive performances of the freshmen and the multiple on-court confrontations may have distracted viewers from some key components in Notre Dame’s victory.

Marquette’s post defense

Notre Dame was able to claim 23 second-chance points and Marquette barely contested entry post passes to Harangody. This allowed him to establish position close to the basket. The Golden Eagles’ lack of post defense allowed Irish coach Mike Brey to keep Harangody in the game, but sit out forward Rob Kurz in favor of the quicker Zach Hillesland. Hillesland provided a more-favorable matchup for Marquette’s short, but athletic lineup. The Irish were able to keep a quick lineup in the game without having to sacrifice their advantage in the paint.

Jackson and Carter’s defense

In the first half, Jackson clamped down on Marquette’s leading scorer, guard Dominic James, who was averaging 15.2 points per game. Jackson was able to contain James’s quickness and contest most of his shots in the lane without fouling. James ended up shooting 2-of-11 in the first half.

After the teams came out of the locker room, James was determined not to let Jackson stop him. James was able to drive past Jackson and scored eight points in the first four minutes of the half. Then, Brey decided to change things up a little bit.

He put guard Russell Carter on James and the senior responded with his best defensive effort of the season. James only put up five shots the rest of the way and hit just one of them.

Carter played aggressive man-to-man defense, denying James the ball everywhere on the floor – not just when James was close to the basket. Because Carter was playing so close to James on defense at all times, he took a risk that he would be able to fight through any off-the ball screens Marquette set for James. Carter did just that. He kept James in front of him and made sure he contested any shot James took. By minimizing the threat James posed to the Irish defense, Carter and Jackson allowed Notre Dame to focus on keeping Marquette’s other scorers (guards Jarel McNeal and Wesley Matthews) from hurting the Irish too much.

Free throw shooting

Part of Harangody’s effectiveness in the game came from his ability to sink free throws. The big man converted on 8-of-9 free throw attempts. If Harangody could not convert from the line, Marquette could have sent in the benchwarmers to play a game of Hack-a-Harangody in the second half, despite their foul trouble. Most of Jackson’s free throws came toward the end – a good sign for the Irish considering Jackson played all 40 minutes. Late in the game, he showed no signs of tiring, shooting 8-of-11 for the game from the line.

Carter, when he took the ball to the hoop, was also able to draw contact and hit 7-of-8 from the line.

If Notre Dame can keep doing these little things right in the coming weeks, a deep run in the Tournament is not out of the question.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Hine at [email protected]