A few quick notes:
- Tory Jackson won the game for the Irish today. He could be truly something special by the time he graduates.
- Tim Higgins is a pathetic excuse for a referee. The way he handled the Harangody/Blair battle was horrific.
- Great win in front of a great crowd on a great night. Nice to see the team stretch the streak to 35 in front of Austin Carr.
In the first half, Tory Jackson showed some flashes of the energy he brought all night. A right hand putback 90 seconds in, a great athletic block two minutes later, just the best hustle on the court. Levance Fields gave Pitt some energy off the bench, showing how much a fully healthy #2 can do for the Panthers. Overall, however, the Irish let Sam Young hit too many jump shots and gave up the offensive glass inside. Down 35-30 at the half.
At halftime, of course, was the Austin Carr tribute. Great to see the 2nd best scorer in college hoops history (behind my personal favorite, Pete Maravich). My favorite quote from his speech: "That was the best experience of my life, playing four years in front of you."
A couple of scribbles from my notebook... Harangody looked uncomfortable on Blair, even with 12 points... Kyle McAlarney was absent, missing open looks and scoring only two points... finally, the Irish needed to up the ante, get to 70+ by the final buzzer.
Beginning the second half, Tory Jackson once again brought his energy to the game. Unfortunately, he was the only one and the Irish quickly fell down 10. A Kyle McAlarney jumper four minutes in cut the lead back to four, but Pitt quickly built up another nine point lead.
Back to Tory. Several leaping offensive rebounds for second chances, driving layups in transition, and a really tough charge taken kept Notre Dame close.
7 minutes left. Kyle McAlarney finally finds his range to hit a three pointer. Puts the Irish back down one. A minute later, another Mac three ties the game. Next possession, Luke Harangody steals the ball at the top of the key and takes it the length of the floor for a thunderous dunk. 5:31 left. Notre Dame lead. Besides one tie, an Irish win the rest of the way.
Overall, a fantastic comeback for the Irish as they used a 20-6 run to take control of the game. Mr. Energy Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody with double-doubles. Loudest the Joyce Center has been this season, maybe the longest all streak.
Tim Higgins and his crew are miserable refs, allowing DeJuan Blair to get away with murder under the basket while calling fouls on clean blocks for the Irish. You always look like a sore loser when you complain about officiating after a loss, so I definitely need to make this point after a win.
Let's break it down individually. Tory Jackson is going to earn a triple-double before he graduates and I thought it would be tonight. Unfortunately, not enough assists to the little guy, but he'll get there. 16 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists. Two of those buckets came on out-of-control drives where he was somehow able to score on a layup. What were turnovers two months ago turned into clutch buckets. His rebounding was tremendous, leaping above much taller guys to grab his first double digit rebounding game of the young career.
Kyle McAlarney was quiet again for a half. When he did score later on, however, those baskets were so clutch. 15 points, 3-10 from beyond the arc. Not the kind of scoring you want to see from him, but those shots were game changers.
Zach Hillesland finished with 4 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. Played the game out with four fouls, so a smart game for him. Not a huge stat game, but the kind of thing we get from him every day.
Rob Kurz finished with 14 points and 5 assists. What really shone through was the leadership he brings to the floor. Just like Colin Falls, he is another coach out there on the floor.
Luke Harangody. Not a completely dominant game, allowing eight offensive boards to DeJuan Blair, but saying he was poor with 23 points, 12 rebounds is ludicrous. It's a tremendous testiment to his ability to take control of a contest when he can look merely above average with those kind of numbers. Kudos to you Luke.
Off the bench, Zeller and Ayers just didn't provide the needed shooting in the first half. With McAlarney off, one of those two guys has to step up. Ayers hit a timely open three in the second half, but Zeller's 0-3 night is not that great. Jonathan Peoples, flu or no flu, played solid minutes including a great three pointer.
For Pitt, Sam Young was allowed to shoot too much. We needed to force him to drive, but most of those 20 points were jump shots over the defense. Keith Benjamin scored 15 with a great night. He didn't take over the game, but picked up baskets as the defense focused on Young and Blair. The freshman Blair had 14 points and 13 rebounds, 8 on offense. Missed five free throws in his seven attempts. Really was allowed to push people around under the hoop, which took Harangody out of his game a bit.
Off the bench, Levance Fields was clearly an improvement over an awful Ronald Ramon. Fields showed bits and pieces of that ability that led the Panthers while he was healthy. Tyrell Biggs ate big minutes as a big man, but the other two buys off the bench really didn't show a lot.
The Irish outshot Pitt 42%-40%. 33%-28% from three. 41-35 rebounding. Seven more made free throws and 90% from there. Overall a really well played game in which Notre Dame held the advantage ever so slightly in every category.
Great win, but we need to follow it up again on Sunday. Let's have an even better crowd if that is possible. 35 straight, so far. Make it 36.
EDIT: As always, check out http://nycnjhoops.com/collegeblog/, a great site following former high school hoopsters from the New York/New Jersey area. They promised to make K-Mac the lead story if he lit it up tonight. Not quite a dominating performance, but clutch nonetheless.