This game seemed to be a microcosm of the season: strong start, fall apart in the second half. The boys worked their butts off after New Mexico finally tied the game with eight and a half minutes left and hung tight against a pretty good team. Tory Jackson's heroics with two seconds left won the game and left a much needed smile on the faces of the Irish faithful. It's been a rough year, we needed one like this.
We played strong defense in the first half, holding the Lobos to only 24 points. The New Mexico comeback was marked by a noticeable breakdown in fundamentals by Notre Dame. The Irish began slapping at rebounds and allowing multiple chances for New Mexico on offense. With ND in possession, a missed layup by Hillesland and back-to-back forced three pointers stick out most in my mind.
The first offense came in the ultra-critical first four minutes of the second half. Zach streaked down the court and received a baseball pass under the basket with no defenders in sight. Instead of catching the ball with two hands, landing, and laying it up for an easy two points, Hillesland attempted an impossible midair reverse layup. The result was a missed opportunity to boost the lead to 13. Four minutes later, New Mexico had crawled back to only four down.
With 3:22 remaining and the Lobos ahead by four, Notre Dame attempted three shots from beyond the arc in seven seconds. The last shot by Ryan Ayers was a leaner with no real chance of going in. You have to be smarter with your chances in crunch time. Thankfully, we finally got two points out of the possession (on Hillesland free throws) after four attempts.
Enough with the negative. After the Irish went down four point with 6:04 remaining, I really thought we were done. New Mexico showed up with a bunch of fans and, quite simply, seemed to want it more. Then Luke Harangody scored a basket and led to another two points with one of his three steals. Down six with 2:08 left, the nail was clearly in the coffin. Clutch efforts on both ends of the floor tied the game just over a minute later. With another stop, Harangody pulled down the rebound and drained two clutch free throws with 29 seconds left and the Irish pulled ahead for the first time in eight minutes.
Elkhart product Dairese Gary missed on a drive to the basket and Luke Harangody's rebound seemed to seal the game. However, Luke threw the ball away while falling to the floor and New Mexico regained possession down two with 15 seconds left in the ballgame. After the timeout, Gary attempted to drive the lane again and was fouled off of the screen by a switching Ryan Ayers. It was a touch foul, something you probably don't like to see called at that point in the game, but a foul nonetheless. Gary, who had bricked a couple earlier in the game, tied the game with two big foul shots.
Enter Tory Jackson. With no timeouts, Tory dribbled the length of the floor to the free throw line. Fighting off contact with Gary (a good no-call on the touching and possible travel), Jackson slipped to the low post and banked in the winner with just over two seconds left on the clock. Tony Danridge very nearly stole the game back with a half court buzzer beater, but the shot safely bounced out of the basket. Game over, clutch come from beyond win for the Irish.
New Mexico's a good team. Getting to 20 wins against a solid competitor with such a hard-fought game is something to be celebrated. We've beaten the disappointments of this year to death already, so I'll enjoy this one tonight.
Tory really had a great game overall. 16 points, two clutch three pointers, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists for the junior. Only 11 assists for the team, a very low total for one of the best teams in that category. He was perfect from the line and obviously won the game with the last play, a drive that no one else on the roster can execute.
Kyle McAlarney scored 11, but was only 3-9 beyond the arc. Craig's pregame prediction did not come true, as both teams struggled on three point attempts. No assists and only 1 rebound for K-Mac.
Ryan Ayers scored 7 points before fouling out. He did pull down 8 rebounds, a really high total for the senior small forward. That good work on the boards balanced a poor night shooting and propelled ND to its six rebound advantage in the game.
Zach Hillesland was solid in 25 minutes. 7 points, 5 rebounds. He didn't make a big contribution on the offensive end, just 1 for 2 shooting (the one miss was mentioned previously), but made 5 of his 6 free throw attempts. Remember at the beginning of the year when foul shooting really hurt us against Texas? Both Zach and the team have come a long way from the stripe since then. The team went 21-25 tonight.
Luke Harangody played very well, scoring 26 and pulling down 11 boards. 8-10 from the charity stripe, 9-20 from the field. 3 big steals gave the Irish scoring opportunities and topped off much-needed defensive stops. Since the Providence game, Luke has five double-doubles in eight games. The Irish are 5-3 in that stretch, the five wins coming on nights of Harangody's double-doubles.
Off the bench, Ty Nash with a pedestrian 3 points and 2 rebounds. 3 rebounds and 3 assists for Jonathan Peoples. No scoring on three attempts. Not much for Luke Zeller in 5 minutes of play.
For as much as Coach Brey has been (justly) criticized, it was nice to see the guy pumping his fist to the student section after the game. He's a guy you want to see succeed at Notre Dame. You just hope that someday he'll figure this coaching thing out.
I know no one wanted to be celebrating second round wins in the NIT this year. It;s frustrating to even be in this position. Still, we won a good game and get to play next Wednesday, maybe at home. The story of this season is not quite over.
EDIT: Thanks to the 3013 who showed up today. If we get a home game against Kentucky next week, we should get a decent turn-out.