It counts as a win so I will treat it as such.
A first half of really uninspired basketball set the stage for a great second period. The lackluster final 4:15 put a damper on what should have been a pretty good story. In the end, however, we're one win closer to the postseason.
The ugly stuff first. That first half was just pathetic basketball. A Notre Dame team should never look so uninspired and get pushed around as much as this squad did for half of the game. Luke Harangody relied too heavily on a jumper that was not working and the rest of the team let a really bad group of Scarlet Knights outhustle and outwork them on both ends of the floor.
The last few minutes of the contest saw the Irish nearly squander away a well-earned twelve point lead. A two minute 9-0 run by Rutgers made the game competitive once again with just over two minutes left. The Irish then had to rely on poor free throw shooting and decision making to keep Rutgers off the board as ND could not buy a basket down the stretch. With a chance to ice the game, a really dumb offensive foul by Harangody (it was a bad call, but Luke shouldn't have even made it a possibility) gave Rutgers one last chance. Twenty-four minutes of really bad basketball all around.
That said, I'll focus on the positives a little more now. I'm not sure what Coach Brey said to the team at halftime (the speech would have included a lot of four-letter words and finger pointing if it had been me), but it worked. 14-4 run before the first TV timeout turned an eight point deficit into our first lead since the 17:35 mark of the first half. We usually come out flat at halftime, so it was nice to see the team hustle when we most needed it.
After trading baskets for a while, the Irish played ten consecutive minutes of hard-nosed basketball on both ends of the floor to turn a one-point deficit into a twelve point lead. Luke Harangody and Ty Nash took the ball to the rim inside, setting a physical tone that was missing the rest of the game.
Tory Jackson played very well, taking the ball to the hoop on a few occasions. 18 points on 6-10 shooting. Only four assists and three rebounds, but he kept the offense going on a couple second half drives.
Kyle McAlarney finished with 13 points, 4 assists, and 6 rebounds. He turned the ball over 4 times, a problem since he took over a lot of the ball handling from Jackson. However, he made his open looks and did not force anything tonight.
If you just told me Ryan Ayers went 0-6 from the floor, I would have responded that the senior had a terrible game. However, he played some strong defense, including a game-changing block early in the second half that set the tone for our run. That play was the most athletic sequence I have seen by anyone on the team this year. He got so high in the air that he was able to palm Hamady N'Diaye's layup and bring it down with one hand.
The only thing Zach Hillesland really did right tonight was sit on the bench for 28 minutes. While on the floor, he managed just one assist with two turnovers and two fouls. I'm glad Coach Brey took him out, but I question the substitution for Peoples over Nash.
Harangody forced the jumper all night. It was not falling, but he just kept at it. His 7-25 shooting nearly brought down the Irish tonight. Watch the tape and you'll see that at least four of those made baskets came on layups where he actually challenged the defender. I love Luke, but he falls in love with that baby hook and jumper too often. It almost killed us.
Ty Nash showed Harangody how to play on offense in 8 great minutes. 7 points, didn't miss a shot from the field. He does need to work on those free throws though. Not sure why he didn't earn more second half playing time because he sure showed some much-needed toughness on the floor. Luke Zeller was solid in 11 minutes. 7 points, 2 assists, no misses. Jonny Peeps grabbed 5 boards and played pretty well in 21 minutes. No complaint with him, I just wish we could have seen more Nash.
Off to Ash Wednesday mass. "Remember man, you are dust and to dust you shall return."
We're not dust yet, but definitely could have been the way we played most of the night. A 2-1 finish sets us up well for the BET. Go Irish, knock off the Huskies, and throw everyone's predictions out the window.