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Men’s Basketball: Pressing the Bearcats

Fran Tolan and Chris Hine | Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Just when it looked like Notre Dame’s 30-game home win streak might be in jeopardy, the Irish simply applied pressure to stop the bleeding. After trailing for most of the first half, the team employed a full-court press to propel it past Cincinnati 91-74 Tuesday night.

Less than five minutes into the second half, Irish junior guard Ryan Ayers stole the Bearcats’ inbounds pass and dropped in an easy layup to give Notre Dame its first lead of the half and just its third of the contest. On the following play, sophomore guard Tory Jackson forced a turnover then passed the ball to junior Kyle McAlarney for a 3-pointer, giving the Irish a 46-42 lead.

“That [defensive pressure] got us going and the building going and kind of jumpstarted the whole thing,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “That’s kind of what you needed in a game like that.”

Coming off their worst defeat of the season – a 26-point loss Saturday to Marquette – the Irish were flat in the first half and trailed at the break for just the second time of the season. But Luke Harangody scored 22 second-half points and 25 total as the Irish cruised to their program-record 31st straight win at the Joyce Center.

“We needed to relax in there and just play our game,” Harangody said. “That’s what we did in the second half.”

McAlarney made four 3-pointers after halftime and finished with 22 points.

“I think one of [the 3-pointers], I actually called it in front of the bench before it even went in,” McAlarney said. “It feels great; as soon as it leaves your hand, you know it’s going in.”

After Irish junior forward Zach Hillesland made two free throws to tie the game at 25, Cincinnati scored five straight points on a basket by freshman forward Kenny Belton and a 3-pointer by senior guard Marvin Gentry. Notre Dame then called a timeout to regroup, but the Irish were still unable to cut into Cincinnati’s lead and the Bearcats went into the break leading 34-27.

But Harangody said the Irish never questioned their ability to grind out the win.

“We’re a confident group and seven points isn’t anything to us,” Harangody said. “Everyone on the team knows what we’re capable of.”

The Irish displayed their propensity for scoring in bunches in the second half.

With 14:30 left, Harangody made a short jumper to cap an 11-0 Notre Dame run and give the Irish a 48-42 lead. The Irish never allowed Cincinnati to close the gap to fewer than three points the rest of the game and led by as many as 19.

To the delight of the Joyce Center crowd, Irish sophomore guard Jonathan Peoples threw down a breakaway dunk with four seconds left in the game.

“He pumped his shoes up, I guess,” Jackson said of his teammate’s aerial maneuver. “He had the air-pumps on.”

The Irish shot 6-of-25 from the field in the opening frame, and no player for either team scored more than seven points in the first half.

But Brey said the team closed the game well enough to leave him confident for Saturday’s showdown with No. 5 Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

“I look at it always as the glass half-full,” Brey said. “We just played a great half before we go play Georgetown.”

Marquette 92,

Notre Dame 66

MILWAUKEE – The Notre Dame team that won its first two Big East games forgot to board the bus destined for the Bradley Center on Saturday, and the Marquette club that lost to West Virginia and struggled against bottom-dwelling Seton Hall didn’t show up either.

The result? A Marquette blowout of Notre Dame that allowed many in the packed arena to leave early and get home in time for the start of the Green Bay Packers playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.

“I did a double take to make sure that counted as one loss,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “They were fabulous. The last eight, nine minutes, man, I’m saying, ‘I want to get guys out and get them ready for Tuesday because we’re not closing the gap today.’ Everybody in the building knew that. They were putting on their Brett Favre jerseys with 10 minutes to play.”

Thanks to a lethal combination of lightning-quick guard play on both ends of the floor and dead-eye outside shooting, No. 13 Marquette dealt the Irish a blow to their confidence and their worst loss in the 109 meetings between the two schools.

Marquette shot 12-for-24 from three-point range and had five players score double figures.

Guard Jerel McNeil led the way with 18, forward Lazar Hayward netted 17 to go along with 11 rebounds, and guard Dominic James had 16 points and seven assists.

The Golden Eagles were as balanced offensively as a skilled tight-rope walker. Notre Dame, if on that same high wire, would have crashed to the ground.

Marquette had trouble stopping Irish forward Luke Harangody, who had 29 points to lead Notre Dame, but after Harangody, Notre Dame’s production on offense fell considerably. Forward Rob Kurz was the only other Irish player in double figures with 11 points. Guard Kyle McAlarney, who had a career-high 32 points against Connecticut, had a hard time getting open against Marquette’s pressure defense and finished with only eight points.

“Nothing really went well for us,” Brey said. “But it was a lot of Marquette playing very, very well. A lot of guys for them made big shots and big plays.”

A Kurz 3-pointer cut Marquette’s lead to five with 17:12 to play, but after that, the rout was on. Marquette went on a 10-1 run over the next two minutes. James, who finished the first half with just three points had five points and two assists during that key run which put the lead back up to 14. (56-42).

Forward Wesley Matthews, who finished with 15, extended Marquette’s lead to 20 with 10:58 to play. Notre Dame never got closer than 15 the rest of the way.