Dear Ray Hall, be my valentine. Thanks, BlackandGreen
It really is only starting to hit me how close this came to a loss. Harangody's great steal under the basket down two with 18 seconds left in the second half. Tory Jackson's steal at the end of regulation to force overtime and near game winning bucket at the buzzer. The Irish scoring 20 in five overtime minutes after playing anaemic offensively all second half. Any of these three huge factors could have gone the other way to cost Notre Dame the game tonight. Say a Hail Mary in thanksgiving that we were able to pull this one out.
After bolting to a 21-9 lead seven minutes into the game, the Irish only scored two points over the next eight 8:15. Ugly. Providence was able to take the lead a couple times before the half, but good 3-2 defense and a nice last second play (what a concept!) kept the Irish up one.
In the second half, Notre Dame jumped out to a couple nice leads. However, more good Providence defense and cold shooting kept the Irish from closing this game out. Look at the Game Flow diagram on ESPN.com to get a good idea of how this contest played out down the stretch. Able to manage only three points in the final five and a half minutes, Notre Dame saw a seven point lead crumble. Bamm-Bamm's great steal when all hope seemed lost and clutch free throws sent the game to overtime.
In the extra period, Notre Dame simply wanted it more. It was so nice to see the crowd on their feet and the players so fired up. Outscoring Providence 20-13 in overtime when the Friars somehow found a magical three point touch will be very important for confidence down the road.
To the individuals. Tory Jackson sure came to play tonight. The point guard with little scoring ability and terrible free throw technique was clutch in both regards. 14 points, 5-9 shooting, 4-6 FT, 7 assists and 3 turnovers. He obviously is still not confident from outside, as he passed up a wide open look from three to drive right into a Providence player for a charge (the refs were offensive foul-happy tonight). Still, a great offensive game when the team needed every point.
We needed guys like Tory to step up because Kyle McAlarney was successfully taken out of the game by the Providence athleticism. 8 points, 2-6 from downtown. Great to see the Irish finally pull out a close game with a poor shooting night by K-Mac. He turned into more of a distributor down the stretch, with 5 assists to 2 turnovers.
I really like Zach Hillesland starting (in part because it makes Ryan Ayers more aggressive when on the floor, but more on that later). He showed the ability to drive that the rest of the squad lacks, but also hit some jumpers. 7 points, 3 rebounds in 27 minutes. Very solid night.
Rob Kurz hit a key three pointer late. So nice to see when he was a bit off his game overall. The senior captain has icewater in his veins. 11 points, 7 rebounds, only 2-8 shooting.
What do you say about Luke Harangody? He does this every night. This time he was able to carry the team to a win even without a stellar night by Kyle McAlarney. 31 points, 14 rebounds. 9-10 from the charity stripe and every single one of those were clutch. Makes a great case for Conference Player of the Year every single time he steps on the floor.
Off the bench, I was really happy to see Ryan Ayers perform well. We need that shot off the bench and he must be willing to make some plays. He hit two huge three pointers when we needed them and was really fired up to be playing. 10 points, 3 rebounds. Keep it up, Ryan. It is a huge weapon to have a double-figure scorer coming off the bench. Peoples barely played, only 5 minutes. Zeller didn't show up a lot on the stat sheet, but provided some energy as well.
Speaking of off the bench, how about Ray Hall? The backup center who didn't even warrant a mention in the preview played 25 very good minutes for the Friars. 10 points, 7 boards. Unfortunately for him, no one will remember those statistics. More like... 2 of 10 from the free throw line. The student section got fired up when Mr. Hall missed rim and backboard on his fourth free throw attempt of the night with 9:30 left in the second half. For his remaining six attempts of the game, the whole arena chanted "air-ball." And he missed every single one.
With such a close game, just one of those uncontested shots could have sealed Notre Dame's fate. Fortunately for the Irish, when Ray gets rattled, he makes Tory Jackson look like Rick Barry. No question that the student section got into the young man's head and kept the Irish from losing this game. Condolences to him, and I am sure that he will go on to be a very good college big man, but it was not to be tonight.
As a team... 44% shooting for the Irish (PC- 41%), 31% 3PA (PC- 24%, but they sure knocked down some clutch ones down the stretch), 35 rebounds (PC- 41), 21 AST/13 TO (PC- 18/15), 22-27 from the stripe (PC- 6-16).
Definitely closer than anyone thought, but this Providence team did beat Connecticut in Storrs. Hopefully the Irish can put together a more well-rounded offensive attack on Saturday.
We are ND.