Well I'm stunned.
The second half went much along the lines I expected the whole game. West Virginia's athleticism was too much against our man-to-man, racking up easy buckets on drives. The 2-3 zone was a good idea, but it opened up rebounding lanes for lots of Mountaineer second chances. Catch-22. The physical and tenacious West Virginia defense forced Notre Dame turnovers in bunches, as well. At the end of the day, the Irish gave up a 20 point lead and needed lucky bounce at the buzzer to hang out. But hang on they did, against the #8 team in the country.
That last possession was surprisingly handled very well. With just a two point lead and West Virginia ball, it was easy to give up all hope. However, Tim Abromaitis made a very heady foul (we had one to give and it killed a little time while disrupting the Mountaineer attack) and Tory Jackson's last second defense was spot-on. Hats off to the team and coaches for not folding on the final defensive chance as I know most of you expected them to (as I did).
The first half was all Irish. Every thing the team put up went through the basket, while the Mountaineers forgot to take the celophane off of the top of their hoop. Surprisingly good Irish D, 75% shooting. 20 point lead at the break. Great to see Joey Brooks getting significant playing time and contributing. I honestly expected the rotation to shrink to just six deep tonight.
Pure Huggins ball in the second period, which I have to admit I admire. They are athletic and tenacious and physical (even a bit thuggish at times) but are never outhustled. Sometimes you really wish Notre Dame would play with that kind of effort. Plenty of energy being expended on both ends of the floor, with high-intensity D leading to transition buckets and everyone crashing the rim on the offensive glass. The Irish were simply outclassed and went over ten straight minutes without a field goal.
West Virginia attempted twenty-nine more shots tonight. Credit the Irish D for holding them to 37.5% shooting. The Mountaineers would have been blown out of this game if it wasn't for their 18 offensive rebounds, but we knew going in how much of a factor that would play. While it's easy to get upset about how Notre Dame failed to box out, essentially shooting itself in the foot all second half, give some credit to West Virginia. They're damn good on the glass.
Tory Jackson struggled in the second half with 3 second half turnovers and had a lot of trouble putting the ball in the basket (1-7). However, he did dish out 7 assists and was pretty clutch from the line (3-4). His defense on that last possession was excellent, but Butler still almost pulled off a miracle.
Ben Hansbrough flirted with a triple-double. Had he not missed his last three free throw attempts, he would have finished just a basket and a rebound away from becoming just the second Irish player to achieve the feat. 10 assists, zero turnovers. If you follow the comments on this blog's posts, you know that there was a little discussion on how Ben and Tory have played together this season earlier today. I definitely think Hansbrough has had a bit of a negative effect on Tory's offensive performance this year and they make for an awkward pairing, but if he continues to fill the stat sheet like this he deserves some credit.
Tim Abromaitis was fantastic. 17 points, 8 rebounds, the best free throw stroke on the team. Once again, I really liked his last foul to break up West Virginia's final possession. If Coach Brey instructed him to use that, hats off for a surprisingly good defensive coaching tip.
Ty Nash had 13 and 6. Not too bad. He racked up four fouls and still has the ugliest foul shot I've ever seen, but was a perfect 5-5 from the field. He and Harangody needed to have better nights on the glass.
Harangody went through his rough patches with bad shot selection during ND's ten minute dry spell, but finished with a great line from the field. I can live with him just attempting 15 shots a game. That means we're counting on other guys for points and he's not playing out of his element. 30+ points don't mean a thing when you're losing to top-ten teams (see UCONN). 24 points tonight suits me just fine when it comes with a win. Should have picked up more than 5 assists. When your team is getting pounded on the offensive glass, your All-American needs to focus on making a difference on that end as well.
Off the bench, Brooks was great in his 9 minutes. He scored 5 points and impressed Coach Brey enough that the post-game interview sounded like we'll see him a bit more. Better late than never. Nothing from Peoples, except a very pretty steal which he promptly turned into an offensive foul. We'll see if Scott is back over the next several days. A week without games will need some news to fill it.
This is our best win in quite a long time. Enjoy it a bit. This just might make up for Loyola Marymount. Nice job, boys.