Interesting to be on the opposite end of one of these so soon after the Louisville game.
Up 28 points 3 minutes into the second half, this had the makings of a huge statement win... exactly what was needed after the loss to the Cardinals. Unfortunately DePaul outscored ND 59-38 the rest of the way and created a little anxiety for Irish fans near the end.
Let's look at the positive aspects first. Notre Dame closed with a 13-4 run at the end of the 1st half to go up 15 at the break. More importantly, they kept up the intensity with a 13-1 run to start the 2nd half. Great job running the floor and beating Blue Demon defenders back for transition baskets.
After a Dar Tucker dunk broke up the Irish momentum, DePaul kept Notre Dame on its heels the rest of the contest. The Blue Demons did a great job of keeping the Irish off the foul line while consistently breaking down the Irish D with long range shots against zone and athletic drives vs. man-to-man.
Overall, the 2nd half was a disappointing reminder of what went wrong against Louisville. Notre Dame had little trouble scoring (51 in the 2nd period), but was completely unable to stop anyone on the opposite end of the court. We like to rate our players based on their offensive abilities, but sometimes overlook defensive holes. Who are the true stoppers on this team? Tory Jackson is very good against quick players, but can be outmatched by stronger guards. Kyle McAlarney rarely gets lined up against the top ball handler of the other team due to Jackson's better quickness. Hillesland usually will be switched out for Ayers, who is a pretty solid wing defender. Unfortunately, both Harangody and Kurz have holes in their defensive games. Bamm-Bamm was shoved around by Koshwal and usually looks unwilling to push back and risk a foul. Kurz covered Donte Greene well against Syracuse but struggles in the post.
Overall, the team plays better in a zone set (usually the 3-2 with Ayers or Hillesland up front), which can be picked apart by a strong shooting team. In man-to-man, athletic teams are able to take advantage of some Irish players' limited mobility. We can't just outscore everyone and need to look for ways to strengthen that D (last three games have been 94-87, 85-90, and 98-91).
Individually, a solid game across the board by Tory Jackson. 9 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds. Made a few good drives and was able to see open perimeter shooters when he was unable to finish himself. He's going to get a triple-double sooner or later and it definitely looked like a possibility today.
Kyle McAlarney had another below average game shooting. 3-10 overall, 3-8 from beyond the arc and 13 points. 4 rebounds, 3 assists. In successive possessions, he didn't even look to be one of the options in the play. He has to be #1 or #2 in every halfcourt set, next to Harangody. Of course, the game's high pace kept McAlarney from getting a lot of opportunities in the halfcourt.
Zach Hillesland had a very solid game as a "point forward." 9 points, 6 assists. Next to Jackson, he is the best creator in the starting lineup with a willingness to drive the open lane. That will open up opportunities when defenders are forced to crash the paint.
Rob Kurz with a surprising game. He made 4 of 5 three point attempts, but I was shocked to see the final line of 21 points, 7 rebounds. First game of 20+ points since December. His solid shooting from beyond the arc followed the rule for most of the team.
Luke Harangody really deserved his fourth straight double-double, but was unable to get off his 9 rebound hump in the closing minutes. 24 points to go with those nine boards. Picked up his game a bit in the second half and was the go-to guy as the lead continued to slip.
Off the bench, we need to take notice of two players in particular: Luke Zeller and Ryan Ayers. With Mac's shot off a bit all game, we needed those two guys (along with Kurz) to pick up the slack shooting from beyond the arc. The three were a combined 10-12. Zeller scored 13 points, his most since November. Only his second game of the year with 3 or more three-pointers. Ryan Ayers was a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc. 9 points off of those shots. Hopefully one or both of those guys can keep that solid shooting up and make a play for a starting job next season. Jonathan Peoples had four assists and no points in 10 minutes.
Overall, a very well played game for both teams. Only 7 turnovers for Notre Dame. 6 for DePaul, extemely low in a game with so many possessions. The 57% shooting for Notre Dame from beyond the arc made up for so few trips to the line (14 free throw attempts, but nine came in the final minute). DePaul was much better rebounding this time around, 35 to ND's 34 (advantage Irish 43-32 in the first contest). Four guys in double figures for both teams. 12 blocked shots between the two teams, including 3 a piece for Harangody and Kurz.
Two more games in the regular season for the Irish and they should be a little easier than this one. A win against St. John's wraps up another unbeaten home run this year. Closing out the season at South Florida with a strong effort could wrap up a top 16 seeding in the NCAAs.
Hopefully we'll see more of the first 23 minutes of this game next week. No reason to let teams in the bottom of the conference hang around with us.