Like Georgetown, we followed up Monday's game with a hard fought home win over an inferior team. Still, every Big East win is a good one.
Our defense is going to determine how far this team goes in March. It doesn't have to be great. It doesn't even have to be good. It just has to be good enough. Today was good enough to win against Seton Hall, but will not work against better teams.
I really don't like watching a team like Seton Hall play basketball. The Pirates put five physical and athletic guys on the floor and watch all hell break loose. No passing, poor shooting, just driving to the basket like a less talented NBA team. In fairness, few teams in the league will create as big a matchup problem for ND as Seton Hall. We are the anti-Pirates: high basketball IQ, good team play, and solid outside shooting. Almost all of their scoring came by breaking down the defense with athletic drives. Still, the defense must be much better against good teams if we want to win. It was good enough last Monday and must be again at Louisville.
While the defense was disappointing (maybe the wrong word... 138th in the country isn't a disappointment, it's just really bad), we saw huge improvements in rebounding and free throw shooting. The Irish should be very proud outrebounding anyone by 13. We picked up 20 offensive boards and would have lost without so many second chances. The shooting from the charity stripe was fantastic. 88%, including 6-6 from Tory Jackson. Tory has really worked hard to improve that part of his game, so he deserves special recognition.
Luke Harangody was really bullied in the first half. The refs were pretty consistent with letting both teams play physically (though Mike Kitts blew a couple anticipation whistles for offensive fouls), which let Mike Davis maul Gody under the basket. Once Luke decided to push back and take over the game, he was a completely different player. He took the team on his shoulders and fought for rebounds on both sides of the floor. The shooting percentage was low for the game (34%), but it was nice to see us win without him giving his regular efficiency. If he shoots his season average (52%), we win by 15 or 20.
Tory Jackson was incredible. In addition to his perfect free throw shooting line, Jackson was aggressive in getting to the basket. 18 points on a good mix of midrange jumpers and layups. 7 rebounds, 8 assists. He will earn the school's second triple double before he graduates. Bank on it.
Kyle McAlarney has grown a bit over the course of the year. Shadowed all game, he only managed to get off eight shots. When he did shoot, he was very effective with 18 points. If the guy is going to score in the upper teens, you would much rather see him shoot 5-8 than 5-15. Nice job picking his spots to make a difference.
Ryan Ayers was cold inside the arc, but did make 2 of his 5 attempted three pointers. 4 rebounds and an assist before fouling out.
Zach Hillesland scored 5 points and 6 rebounds, a nice contribution. He also drilled his last three foul shots after missing his first attempt of the game. Hopefully this is a preview of things to come.
Harangody finished with 30 and 16. Seven of those rebounds were on the offense end. Lots of ugly twirling and tipping, but he gets it done.
Off the bench, Jonathan Peoples didn't do a whole lot in six first half minutes.
Luke Zeller gets his own paragraph. Great game for the big man. Not a huge contribution under the basket (2 rebounds) and decent scoring (9 points), but he was a game changer. Used his length to contest shots and made those three pointers at huge moments. We needed him today and he was clutch.
All things considered, a pretty good way to start a brutal stretch. We needed to be 3-1 going into Monday and got there. Louisville didn't look all that impressive beating Villanova, so hopefully we can get the ball rolling against Rick Pitino's squad. Defense better improve in a hurry, though.
12-3 halfway through the season. If we can get to the three-quarter pole after February 12th with no more than three additional losses, I'll be pretty happy. 18-5 or better after this stretch and I'm ecstatic. We'll find out soon enough if that defense is up to the task.