Great, great win today. Lots of fun being in the Joyce, with the loudest atmosphere since Alabama. The boys fought back and held on for an important 66-63 win.
In the first half, one ref (either Bernard Clinton, John Gaffney, or Tim Higgins, I don't know them by sight) made some awfully pro-'Nova calls. Two were overturned by the other men in stripes and several others brought Mike Brey to his feet to yell at the one official in particular. Those calls cost the Irish 4-6 first half points, easy. The second half was equally as horrid, although bad to both sides. Villanova racked up 7 fouls in 3:09 to start the second half. Please, just let the players play.
Notre Dame came out of the locker rooms wearing the Alabama unis (black and white, sans last name). The first half saw only three ND players make shots from the floor, with Colin Falls scoring 10. 'Nova pulled well ahead twice, but the Irish were able to cut back into leads by making strong defensive stands. The last three minutes of the first half passed without a Villanova basket.
In the second half, The Wildcats lead by as much as seven, but a 9-1 run but ND ahead by one and made it a game. Notre Dame was able to control the last 2:30 and should have put the visiting team away, but still held on to win by 3.
We start, as usual, with Russell Carter. Russ had a really tough night from the floor, three of eleven, but most evident was his attitude. With no apparent injury, our star player rode the bench for the final key minutes of the game. When last taken off the floor, Gene Cross had a few stern words for the young man. Such a poor attitude is unacceptable for a senior, especially such a key player. However, being able to win a close game without an All-Big East talent on the floor is very impressive.
Congratulations, Colin Falls. With Carter having an off night in a must-win game against a stern defense, you stepped up. 6 of 11 shooting is nice, add in eight free throws to almost equal a season high. We need some production out of him every night, and this marks his fourth straight conference game scoring in double figures. The captain played all forty minutes and proved to be a strong psychological boost to the squad even when the deficit grew.
Yawn, another double-double for Rob Kurz. He was able to bounce back well from a tough night at St. John's. Did rack up four fouls, but never backed down inside.
Luke Harangody continues to struggle a bit shooting, but grabbed seven rebounds. One of six from the floor is not very good for a post player and he needs to not shy away from contact. After getting hacked a few times and not getting calls, the freshman seemed a get a little timid and was unable to score effectively.
The point guard battle promised to be rather interesting with two talented freshmen. Scottie Reynolds is obviously the better player at this point in their respective careers. Tory Jackson was unable to provide a scoring threat and only assisted in four baskets. Jackson did turn the ball over only once to Reynolds' two, and also kept the Villanova guard from being an even bigger impact on offense (held to 5-14 shooting).
Zach Hillesland is Mr. Everything once again. While not providing much of a shooting threat, Hillesland grabbed seven rebounds and made four foul shots. He gets 20 minutes a night, but I wish we could see the sophomore a little more to start off the game. His hustle and sheer will is what drives his stat line and he seems to energize the other players around him.
Ryan Ayers finally made some case for more playing time. With the game on the line, Ayers made a key three-pointer and hit two of three foul shots to give the Irish 5 points when they needed it most. Should be a boost to his confidence, especially since he was seemed to struggle with an unwillingness to take shots in the past.
On the opposing bench, I would say that Curtis Sumpter is just about back from his injury. I certainly didn't expect to see Villanova's best player for more than a few minutes at a time off the bench. With Dante Cunningham in foul trouble, Sumpter played a full ten minute stretch early in the second half and ended the night with a double double. Frosh Scottie Reynolds showed some of the talent displayed against Texas and us previously, but was unable to really take over due to a good effort by Tory Jackson defensively. He still scored 19.
Overall, really strong defense and physical play lead to poor shooting by both teams. The Irish finished a hair under 35% and had the same number of rebounds as 'Nova. This win makes 17 on the year and will prove to be really big later on. Halfway through the Big East schedule, ND is 5-3 and can go .500 the rest of the way to lock up a NCAA bid. The win avoids a losing streak and gives a little momentum going into Syracuse and a three game road trip. It also revenges a previous loss to a very good team. Congrats to the guys for a stellar performance, and good luck Tuesday.