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Men’s Basketball Commentary: McAlarney steps up to give squad big win

Chris Khorey | Wednesday, December 5, 2007

After being suspended for most of last season, after struggling in Notre Dame’s two losses in the Virgin Islands and after 38 minutes of frustrating basketball, McAlarney put the Irish on his shoulders and got them a huge win over Kansas State.

With a little over two minutes remaining Tuesday night, Notre Dame was hanging on to a tenuous lead. The Irish were up 59-57, but they hadn’t scored in nearly five minutes. The situation was all too reminiscent of the end of the Baylor and Georgia Tech games, where the Irish struggled to score down the stretch and blew big leads.

But McAlarney made sure that wouldn’t happen again.

He took the ball on the wing, drove baseline, and threw in a runner to put the Irish up four. After Kansas State cut the lead to two again, he hit one of the biggest shots of his career – a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:32 remaining.

That shot, which put Notre Dame up by five and forced the Wildcats to start fouling, was the difference between this win and the losses to the Bears and Yellow Jackets.

In those games, no one on the Irish stepped up and made a big shot to kill the other team’s run. On Tuesday, McAlarney made that clutch shot, and gave his team a huge win.

Still, while McAlarney won the game at the end, the Irish wouldn’t have even been in that position if it wasn’t for the play of several other players – most notably Luke Harangody.

The sophomore forward scored 19 points and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds despite being repeatedly mugged under the basket while the referees turned a blind eye. He also played solid defense on Wildcats superstar freshman Michael Beasley.

Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers complemented Harangody with strong play at the small forward position. They hustled for rebounds and always had their hands in the passing lanes – especially Ayers, who forced a turnover with a deflection of an in-bounds pass on one of Kansas State’s final possessions.

Notre Dame only had three games against “power conference” teams on its schedule before Big East play – Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Kansas State. After seeing the first two of those games slip away, the Irish were in a bad position. They had only one shot to get a big win before the conference season and give themselves a résumé boost for Selection Sunday in March.

And thanks to McAlarney, they got that big win. With Northern Illinois, San Francisco, Brown and North Florida left before the conference schedule begins, Notre Dame should enter Big East play 10-2 and riding an eight-game winning streak.

The Irish came into this game having not done anything notable this season. ESPN almost completely ignored them in the pre-game hype – and when they did mention Notre Dame, they mispronounced Harangody and McAlarney’s names.

Instead, the hype centered on Beasley and Kansas State’s other highly renowned freshmen.

Then the Irish proved that experience, teamwork and heart matter a lot more than hype and NBA prospects. This entire team, especially McAlarney, has been through adversity, and it showed.

When it came to crunch time, Notre Dame’s veterans stepped up and beat Kansas State’s flashy youth. The Irish were more composed, more clutch, and showed more hustle, and they won a game with the nation watching – a game that will be remembered in March.

After taking a big hit in the Virgin Islands, Notre Dame’s season is back on track.

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

Contact Chris Khorey at [email protected]