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Men’s Basketball: Irish use team effort in MU win

Chris Hine | Tuesday, February 12, 2008

When Notre Dame played Marquette on Jan. 12, sophomore Luke Harangody scored 29 points while the rest of the Irish combined for only 37 points, and the Golden Eagles pummeled the Irish 92-66.

When the two teams met on Saturday, and Marquette clamped down on Harangody, the rest of the Irish rose to the occasion and lifted No. 20 Notre Dame to its eighth Big East victory 86-83.

“Coach just has a lot of confidence in the eight guys that are playing,” forward Ryan Ayers said after the game. “Today, we saw how dangerous each guy was. We have balanced scoring, each guy is picking it up. I know Kyle and Luke have been doing a lot of the scoring, with myself, [forward] Luke Zeller, and [guard Jonathan] Peoples coming off the bench giving us a spark.”

Five players finished with double figures and Ayers finished with nine points, but guard Kyle McAlarney said the Irish couldn’t have won the game without forward Luke Zeller and Jonathan Peoples. Zeller finished with 11 points while Peoples finished with seven, including two free throws with 18 seconds left to put Notre Dame up three and keep Marquette from taking the lead.

“They were huge,” McAlarney said. “Luke Z., in the first half was great, grabbing rebounds, hitting threes. He was amazing. Jonathan, those two free throws were huge. That’s a lot of pressure for somebody coming off the bench and he knocked them down.”

Peoples said his heart was racing when he stepped up to the line and the Joyce Center crowd became quiet as he took his shots.

“I was really nervous,” Peoples said. “Everybody said I looked really calm, but I was nervous inside. I knew I had to make them though, so I took my time and made both of them.”

Peoples may have been nervous, but Ayers knew he would knock down the free throws.

“He lives for the crunch time,” Ayers said. “He’s played a lot big games in high school and played a lot of good minutes for us here.”

Sophomore guard Tory Jackson said the team likes to joke around with Peoples, especially his 36.7 three-point percentage.

“We tease him all the time,” Jackson said. “He’s Big Bear, that’s his name. He jokes with us all the time but we joke with him, too.”

On Saturday, Peoples did hit a three, but the shot probably would’ve fallen short if not for a Marquette goaltending violation. Even though he got credit for a made shot, the fact that Peoples needed a Marquette defender to illegally contest the shot won’t spare him grief from his teammates.

“He’s a little bit of a whipping boy, but he’s a great player,” McAlarney said. “I think people are shocked by how good of a player he is because he comes in kind of hunched over, and he’s so tight, almost like he’s an old man, but we don’t win the game without him.”

Zeller scored most of his points in the first half and got the Joyce Center in a frenzy when he threw down a monstrous left-handed jam.

“I’ve seen it before,” Ayers said. “He’s done it in practice. I was glad he got to do it in a game. He has that long stretch with the left and it’s a powerful dunk. I was glad he brought it out.”

Zeller also stepped outside and drained two 3-pointers at crucial times to prevent Marquette from cutting into Notre Dame’s lead late in the first half and early in the second half. Irish coach Mike Brey said he liked how Zeller has been playing defensively this season.

“We’ve sketched a good role for him to have success,” Brey said. “He’s a confident guy coming and shooting the ball, but I love how he’s playing defense and rebounding right now and he’s handling the basketball pretty good. He’s moving differently, he’s confident, he’s going for it.”

Zeller said everybody feels comfortable with his role, and that has only helped the team improve over the last month.

“We all have our roles, we just get out and play, and we just go for it and we all know what we can do,” Zeller said.