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ND Basketball: Offensive boards help K-Mac set 3-point record

Chris Hine | Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chris Hine

Sports Writer

Kyle McAlarney set a Notre Dame record by draining nine 3-pointers in Sunday’s 94-87 win over Syracuse, but the record would have remained intact if not for a little help from junior forward Zach Hillesland on the offensive glass.

In the second half against the Orange, Hillesland grabbed two offensive rebounds, and each time he did, he passed to McAlarney who found an open spot beyond the arc against Syracuse’s scrambled zone defense.

It might have seemed like luck that McAlarney, who is hitting 46 percent of his three-pointers this year, was open after an offensive rebound, but in fact, the Irish work on finding their shooters after an offensive rebound because it’s a prime opportunity for them to get an open look.

“Every time we get an offensive rebound, Coach Brey is yelling at me, or he’s yelling at Rob [Kurz], or Ryan [Ayers] or whoever to spot up,” McAlarney said. “As a shooter you get held and people don’t leave you all game so you have to find ways to get shots and one of the best ways to get shots is broken plays and offensive rebounds like that.”

Once a shot goes up, the defense looks skyward, and loses track of shooters like McAlarney, who defenses would otherwise watch with eagle-like precision.

“The defense is kind of a little stirred up as it is, and sometimes we have trouble getting Kyle open looks, so when we get an offensive board, it’s a good time to get Kyle an open shot,” Hillesland said.

Notre Dame leads the league in rebounding margin (+4.8 in conference play), overall rebounding with 43.6 per game, and forward Luke Harangody is first in conference with 11.9 boards per game. Even though Syracuse, who’s second in rebounding margin, outrebounded Notre Dame 51-33 on Sunday, the Irish aren’t worried performances like that will be a trend and have worked on correcting the problems they had against the Orange.

“When we get beat on the boards, I think the guys on the perimeter — myself, Ryan, Tory — we lose our guys because [boxing out is] really not a priority for us but it should be,” McAlarney said. “But when we’re really boxing out and everyone is boxing out their own guys that’s when we out-rebound teams and that helps out our big guys a lot.”

Few would have guessed the Irish would lead the Big East in rebounding, considering the Irish don’t have a skyscraper in the middle ala Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert, or Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet, and they play a lot of 2-3 or 1-2-2 zones, defenses that make it harder to box out the opponent.

“It’s something we enforce in practice when we’re in zone, to block the guy out in your area,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “It’s easier said than done sometimes in zone. I think also sometimes you can be too worried about block outs. It’s a balance point and a fine line. Sometimes you just need to go get the ball. Harangody and Kurz, Hillesland, they can just go get the ball sometimes.

Once Kurz or Harangody grab a defensive board, they’re looking right away for guard Tory Jackson who’ll take off down the floor. Hillesland, meanwhile has the quickness and the ball handling ability to take it the length of the floor himself. But when both Jackson and Hillesland are dribbling in transition, they try to get an open look for McAlarney before the defense can get set to guard him.

“That’s the No. 1 priority when I’m pushing the ball is I try to get Kyle easy looks because he shoots such a high percentage and its such a weapon that when we’re in transition I try to find him for an open look,” Hillesland said. “Whenever I get the ball, he knows because he sprints down the line and tries to spot up at the elbow-extended or the wing.”

At 5-foot-11, Jackson seems a diminutive threat on the glass, but as teams across the Big East have learned, he can be a nuisance. Jackson is third on Notre Dame in rebounding with 5.2 per game. He pulled down eight against Rutgers and 13 against Pittsburgh to tie Panthers forward DeJuan Blair for the game high.

“Tory can do that. He’s pretty athletic,” McAlarney said. “I don’t have that kind of athletic ability.”

But Jackson isn’t so successful grabbing rebounds in practice against his teammates.

“They know my secret,” Jackson said. “I just tiptoe through the lane a little bit, kind of hide there for a minute, stay low for a while and if they don’t see me, don’t box me out, that’s when I jump and I’m athletic enough to get up there and jump up with them to.”

The 6-foot-1 McAlarney experienced firsthand what can happen when one dares to enter to slugfest inside the lane.

“It gets pretty rough down there. The other night, I mistakenly went in for a rebound, thinking I had a chance, and I got elbowed in the face,” McAlarney said. “It’s not place for little guys.”

But part of Notre Dame’s success this season has been the physical nature of the practices, especially inside the lane, Jackson said.

“It’s very intense. Feelings get hurt, noses, lips get busted, everything. You name it,” Jackson said. “But we need that because this conference is tough and you have to battle every night and if we battle each other we’re going to carry that over to the court.”