Marquette shot lights out in the second half, a day after looking terrible from the field and got the Irish out of their rhythm in the second half. Great games by Jerel McNeal and Maurice Aker off the bench mean yet another early exit from the BET for the Irish.
No complaints about the first half. Going into the break with a six point advantage while your best player spends half the time on the bench is very respectable. The second period looked like a direct copy of our first contest.
When a team shoots just 34% the night before, you don't expect them to off for 89 points on you. Marquette shot 52% from the field and Jerel McNeal looked like an All-American scoring 28 against a slow Irish D. McNeal's a 27% three point shooter! Give me a break. Obviously zone defense leaves open looks on the outside, but that was ridiculous. A guard oriented team with little post play, Marquette played the contest to their pace in the second half and outscored Notre Dame 55-35 over the last 18+ minutes. A very deserving win for Tom Crean's bunch and yet another disappointing finish at Madison Square Garden for us.
Earlier, Georgetown was the only favorite to win. Connecticut and Louisville can join our pity party after letting down their fans. Perhaps the saddest part of the night is how the Irish gave up a great chance to make the Big East finals. An opportunity like the one we had tonight rarely comes along again.
Kyle McAlarney scored 20 on 8-18 shooting. The Irish caught a hot streak in the final minute to pull the game within 6 with the ball, but could not finish. Mac was harassed all night, but still managed to find a few open looks. His shooting ability is simply amazing with the smallest amount of room possible.
Tory Jackson showed some flashes of last year's Georgetown game. Finished with 10 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds. His driving ability is fantastic and he set up scoring opportunities for himself and others all night. Made a few bad mistakes while pushing the ball up the floor to allow Marquette to keep the pace high in the second half. With such a great defensive opponent, you have to play smarter than that.
Zach Hillesland was the player of the game. 14 points, 8 rebounds. Drove to the hoop a few times and cleaned up on the offensive boards. Made 5 second chance opportunities with his effort. Great hustle and provided some lift from the perimeter.
Rob Kurz finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Still 1 off 1,000 points in the career for the senior. 2-5 from beyond the arc, but failed to mix it up down low. Has the tendency to stay out on the arc all game and should have been more physical with Harangody in foul trouble.
Luke Harangody became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points in a career. He now has 1,003. Certainly a bitter-sweet night for him, however, as the big man was dogged by fouls and Ousmane Barro all game long. Would have liked to see a better performance from him after his awards and playing in front of the family. Finished with 13 and 5 and fouled out.
Off the bench, 4 points for Luke Zeller. He had a chance to cut the lead to three in the closing seconds, but let off a terrible air ball that sealed ND's fate. Ryan Ayers had a clutch three pointer but not much else. Jonathan Peoples must have played, because his name is listed in the box score but it was quite brief.
So let's talk seeding. Losing to a ranked opponent in your first conference tourney game is not the end of the world. Certainly we had the toughest first round opponent of any top 15 team in the country (save maybe Louisville) and should not be punished too severely for this. However, should not and will not are two very different realities.
The Irish deserve a 4 seed. Tied for second in the deepest conference in the league. Only conference losses came against the top six teams. RPI of 19 going into tonight and the toughest schedule in the conference. Only two losses against currently unranked opponents were by 5 or less in November. Unbeaten at home and above .500 on the road.
However, I can certainly see this team slip to a 5 after today. Not the end of the world, play a similar caliber opponent and wear the blacks in the second round. If the Irish fell all the way to a 6 seed, I would be extremely upset with the selection process. But that is for discussion on Sunday.
For now, this was a tough loss. Allowing 57 in the second half is unacceptable but could re-energize the team for a deep tournament run. I would much rather see the Irish make a solid attempt at Sweet 16 status than win a conference tournament game. However, if we draw a team the caliber of Marquette in the NCAAs with quick guards and strong outside shooting, the attempt must be made to slow the game down and look to Harangody inside. We failed in that aspect tonight.
Certainly a loss does not ruin the success of the last couple months in conference play, but there will be a sour taste in the mouths of the players if they go one-and-done again. Hopefully we will right the ship and go back to playing quality basketball next Thursday or Friday.