Yes! Luke Harangody is quickly becoming one of the best in the nation and put the Irish over the top tonight.
Even with under 10,000 in attendance for the game, there was a great sense of excitement for everyone on the team.
Coach Rod Balanis led cheers from the bench and Mike Brey nearly pulled a muscle with fist pumps on the bench throughout the contest as the Irish took control early and never let go.
Smalligan, the Mountaineers' 7 foot center, turned out to be a poor man's Kevin Pittsnogle, playing only 17 minutes and failing to be a force in the center. Joe Alexander and the other second choices for West Virginia were shut down and Notre Dame only allowed one player (Ruoff) to score double digits tonight.
Alex Ruoff dropped 18, but it was a team effort slowing him down. My predictions were completely off, as Jackson never covered Ruoff and Ryan Ayers rarely played against Alexander. Instead, just about every player on the team got a shot at #22 and played a role in keeping him from getting more than what he did. The great man defense by Ayers, Kurz, Hillesland and others on Ruoff allowed the other four guys to shut down their individual guys and keep West Virginia to only 56 points tonight.
West Virginia showed no inside game and Bamm-Bamm went off. The Mountaineers are built to hit open shots outside off of screens. The only points in the paint came off of cuts and drives from the outside. This allowed Notre Dame's sophomore forward to score inside and play shut down defense under the basket.
There was obviously more physical play, with players on both teams hitting the deck all night. Great to see our guys diving for loose balls all game and showing the intensity we may have lacked against some of the cupcakes in December.
To the individuals. Tory Jackson has the confidence of a seasoned vet. It's uncanny. The 5'10" guard who entered the contest shooting 13% from beyond the arc for the season stepped up and drilled two huge treys. Finishing 5-10 from the floor for 12 points in only 24 minutes, he was a great boost to the offense. Even with foul trouble (he finished with 4), Jackson hustled every second of the game. Great to see him get some points to go with the assists (not great in that category, only 2 with 6 turnovers). He has serious guts and I was very impressed with those big time buckets.
Kyle McAlarney was cold again, but it was nice to see us succeed without his shooting. Like Colin Falls, he will have some great nights and some ugly ones. Today was pretty ugly, but he took control of the offense in Tory's absence and went back to that point guard mentality to get the win. Only 7 points on 3-11, but 9 assists and one turnover in a bad team TO night. The savvy junior was able to completely change his outlook and do what he needed to help the team.
Ryan Ayers had another solid night all around. Hit two big threes in the beginning of the contest and finished with 8 points. 5 rebounds to go with that and defended Ruoff well down the stretch.
Rob Kurz grabbed 13 rebounds with 8 points. Did a great job cleaning up the boards to help out with...
Luke Harangody. Wow. 29 points, 16 rebounds (5 on offense), 7-8 from the line, played through a back injury and a bloody leg. He moved bodies under the hoop and was clearly the best post player. A couple times went head to head against Smalligan and did not look 4 inches shorter at all. It will be really fun to watch him against the rest of the conference's big men. Great job, Luke.
Zach Hillesland gave a good 20 minutes, the most off the bench. 5 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, all hustle. He gave the team a bit of a boost and was successful as the third big man tonight. Luke Zeller pushed some guys around in his seven minutes, the first I've seen that physical play. Peoples had a quiet 8 minutes. Really a lot of time for our starters tonight.
Lots of ugly turnovers, 20 to West Virginia's 9. Not at all how we wanted to perform handling the ball tonight. We were able to defeat the Mountaineers by making 9 more free throws, grab 13 more rebounds, and and outshoot WVU 48% to 32%. Gody's 11 for 16 sure boosted that last number. The 43 rebounds, including 11 offensive, came on the backs of Kurz and Harangody. We gave up 12 offensive boards to West Virginia, many of them early, which supplied them with too many second chances. Other than that, however, it was a complete performance from the entire squad, especially without relying on a great shooting night by Mac.
Big win. That's the way to start the conference season. Time to get back to work and put UCONN away late Saturday night and keep the streak alive!