Huge win for the Irish!
After two weeks of hearing nothing but how this team can't win on the road, Mike Brey somehow forgot how to coach in a year, and wondering if Notre Dame could ever compete on the national level, winning a game like this feels great. Seriously, folks! Hopefully today's win over a ranked opponent on the road will keep some of biggest naysayers quiet.
But that's enough about the last two weeks of negatives. Time to get to what happened today.
I've been one of the more vocal critics of Ryan Ayers this season. Some of the criticism has been valid, while others may have been a little overstated. Nonetheless, I have always believed that Zach Hillesland was the right guy for the starting lineup (ok, enough chest-thumping on my part). Kudos to Coach Brey for making the lineup change and getting the extra energy on the floor to begin the game.
I've said it once and will say it the rest of the year, as Kyle McAlarney goes so do the Irish. Forget Luke Harangody's All-American performances every night. K-Mac is the catalyst that drives this offense. 30 points on 10-15 shooting for the man from Staten Island. 2 assists and 4 turnovers are not a great combination, but he needs to be gold from beyond the arc for us to win games like this. He sure came through today.
Tory Jackson had a nice solid game running the offense today. Don't have the exact assist/turnover numbers just yet, but he certainly looked better than what we have seen over the last few weeks. Got to the line a lot but only hit just over half of those shots. Came away with 9 points. Add in 2 steals and three rebounds for a very good performance.
Zach Hillesland, come on down. In his first performance starting for Ryan Ayers, Zach didn't exactly light up the scoresheet. However, he gave us six rebounds and three assists doing what Ryan doesn't: hustling and spreading the defense with his movement. Ryan had a very good game, however, and we'll get to that in a moment.
Luke Harangody is a rock. No disrespect mean earlier when I said that K-Mac drives this offense. Clearly we need the big guy in the middle. 25 points, 10 rebounds. Just dominated the undersized Villanova middle. We were actually outrebounded by the 'Cats, but Luke's great performance made the overall rebounding war moot. 8-14 shooting and was effective from the stripe (though he missed a couple key ones down the stretch). When McAlarney shoots well from outside, it really opens up the paint for Bamm-Bamm, and vice versa. Great to have such a strong two-headed attack.
Rob Kurz finished with 12 and 4. Couldn't really get going with the outside shot (2-7), but provided a solid game overall today. Never does anything flashy and was far short of the double-double he seems to end up with just about every night, but effective nonetheless.
Off the bench, Ryan Ayers gave us 10 points and 5 rebounds. 2-3 from beyond the arc. Still, I think he is a much better weapon off the bench. Just does not give the team the same energy from the tip like Hillesland. When he knocks down the open looks like he did today, he can still be a very effective role player. Here's to more double-digit outings off the bench for Ryan.
Jonathan Peoples and Luke Zeller were pretty quiet. Peoples hit a basket and grabbed two rebounds. Zeller barely even shows up on the stat sheet.
The team jumped off to a solid start and built a ten-point lead by halftime (I credit the black jerseys... Kurz was definitely wrong about them). The second half lead stretched to about 16, but never got into a complete blowout. Villvanova closed the gap a little late to keep us honest, but this one never got too close.
Obviously, great shooting helped the Irish win today. 51% will help you any day of the week. The Wildcats out rebounded Notre Dame, 38-31, surprising considering how undersized Villanova can play. Seeing top rebounder Dante Cunningham on the bench with five fouls certainly helped spirits as ND tried to close this out. Still, Antonio Pena's performance leading Villanova was quite surprising.
Notre Dame got to the line a lot. 27-38 from the charity stripe, providing the Irish with 18 more points than 'Nova's 9-12. McAlarney's big day helped the Irish in the three point category, as they shot 43% as a team. Villanova was 35% with a similar number of attempts.
Huge win to get the season back on track for the season. Win to establish road identity? Check. Win over top 25 opponent to break a solid home streak? Check. Bounce back from two ugly road losses to reassert team's ability to win in the conference? Check.
Back to business now as the team looks to extend the home winning streak. Providence on Thursday and DePaul next Saturday. Two big home games we should win to put the Marquette and Georgetown losses deep into the rearview mirror. 'til next time...