Was tonight sweet or what? A big win on the road against a very good opponent. The Irish were without their best inside threat and a fouled out Colin Falls near the end. The lead did slip a bit, but at Syracuse any win counts.
The most noticable difference in tonight's game is the score. I mentioned how impressed I was at how the Irish won a low scoring contest vs. 'Nova. Tonight was back to a good old barn burner.
First, Russell Carter. 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 of 7 from long range. Just another very good performance from a top Big East talent. He ended with a wee bit of foul trouble, but had another very good night overall.
It is great to see Colin Falls contributing regularly again. 16 points on 4 of 10 shooting from deep. Also, 4 assists. His overall FG% finished a touch above Carter's. When he can produce like that, Falls provides a great 1-2 punch with Russell.
Tory Jackson was very, very solid tonight. 5 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 steals. Where did he contribute most tonight? At the line, 11 for 14. Previously perceived as a weakness in late games, Tory did everything a point guard needs to do on the road. His 19 points were a career high, but most important was the way he handled himself under pressure. Great job.
To the other freshman, what can I say about Luke Harangody? Bamm-Bamm has looked a bit shaky in recent contests. Tonight, #44 was as rock solid as a four year starter. 21 points. 13 rebounds. Only 24 minutes! He is a serious basketball player. Without Rob Kurz and having Bamm-Bamm in foul trouble, the Irish were without a respected inside presence for far too many minutes tonight. However, when the freshman was on the court, ND dominated the paint. Notre Dame would not win tonight without a solid game by Harangody. He was a lot more than solid.
Zach Hillesland got a much deserved first career start in a big conference matchup. He's not really a big guy, 226 pounds, and looks even skinnier in person. Somehow the lightweight from Toledo grabbed 9 rebounds against a veteran Syracuse front court. He also scored 14 and tossed out four assists. We will see a lot more of him next season, but right now he is a perfect addition off the bench.
Ryan Ayers played a good 20 minutes. Seven points, a steal, a block, and a rebound. Most importantly, the sophomore is starting to make his shots when he gets the opportunity. I would love to see Ryan give Hillesland a run for the starting small forward spot next year.
Luke Zeller sure doesn't seem to be a great fit down low. Tonight was a big game for him to step up, but LZ picked up four fouls in twelve minutes and was unable to provide more than a few minutes here and there. Nice to see him be physical, but a foul every three minutes is too much.
Jonathan Peoples made a three, but was otherwise on the bench all night.
Big, big win for the Irish that more than offsets the St. John's loss. The team should ride the wave to South Florida (maybe some Super Bowl festivities?) and hopefully a road trip sweep. Everything is back on track after a rough January.