Consider Notre Dame's gut checked. A 24 point second half comeback took the Irish from the brink to an easy victory against the Bearcats tonight.
Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati's one man scoring machine last week, was held to only 10 points on 3 of 13 shooting. In the second half, the Irish brought more hustle and physicality to the game and looked like a completely new team. Luke Harangody led all scorers with 25 after not hitting a field goal in the first half.
Tory Jackson scored 4 points and had 8 assists and 5 rebounds to 4 turnovers tonight. Not a great line, but he did a very good job shutting down Vaughn on defense and leading the Irish comeback. However, he made some dumb mistakes down the stretch and left fans wondering whether he can be trusted with the game on the line. A bruised knee in the closing minutes meant he spent the last minute or two on the bench. The injury was sustained while spinning recklessly on the sideline and crashing into the scorer's table. Just not a heads-up play with an almost 20 point lead. Until then, he had been pretty smart with the ball and tenacious on defense. Just needs to play within himself down the stretch (though his two free throws were hopefully a good sign of things to come).
Kyle McAlarney really is the catalyst of this team. The first 20 minutes he was unable to get open looks at the basket. With the second half comeback, he finished with 22 points on 7 of 10 shooting. Was absolutely deadly in the corner in front of the Irish bench. Also had three assists, but 5 turnovers. When he is making the outside shot, everything opens up under the basket on offense.
Ryan Ayers finished with 7 points and 4 rebounds. A couple of those boards were huge during our comeback. His steal and layup put the Irish ahead for good with 15:30 remaining. He was also the guy to cover Vaughn when Tory was on the bench with his 4 fouls.
Luke Harangody finished with 25 points and 7 rebounds. As mentioned previously, none of his baskets from the field came in the first half. He did a pretty good job kicking the ball out in double teams down the stretch, but more improvement can be made. Cincy liked to double him down low a lot. This worked in the first half, but as the Bearcats got tired, Gody was able to take control and draw fouls. He hit 13 of 15 from the charity stripe.
Rob Kurz deserved yet another double double. 17 points, 10 rebounds. Not a great shooting night (4-11), but was clutch from the line (8-9) and was the only player with double figure rebounds. Another quietly efficient night for the senior.
Off the bench, Luke Zeller hit a few good open threes. However, I'm not quite ready to support Jack Nolan's idea that Luke could play pro somewhere. Luke's a great guy, plays hard, and shoots very well from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, he has not become and will probably never be the inside force that he was hoped to be when recruited. Still, can stretch the defense and hit very important shots when given the opportunity as he did tonight. Congrats to him. Jonathan Peoples had 7 points and no assists or turnovers. Great way to top off the night with a one-handed jam and get over 90 points. Hillesland gave the team some energy off the bench with his ability to cut and drive to the hoop, in contrast to Ryan Ayers. 3 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists. Did finish with 4 fouls.
In the first half, Cincinnati killed us on the offensive boards. We were stagnant and caught looking up at the glass several times. The Bearcats have great quickness and crash the basket very well. Their 15 offensive rebounds to our 10 seems a bit low, but most of those came in the first half for Cincinnati.
Great job by the team coming back and winning a key game tonight. Hopefully games like this and Connecticut will make the Irish battle-hardened and ready to pull off a big win down the road, maybe even this weekend in D.C. The diminutive Mick Cronin (how tall is he really?) has done a solid job turning Cincinnati into a competitive team that plays tougher than their 8-9 record. Obviously, they sometimes can't keep it up for 40 minutes, but the Bearcats were the better team on the floor for all of the first half.
Other than that, Johnny Lattner was in attendance. The former Heisman winner has been known to tailgate with his trophy on the table before ND football games. Great to see the students back. The student section was filled pretty well the first game back. Need to keep the streak going with one more win in January, but until then the Irish have a couple opportunities to get that first road win. Let's see if we can knock off Georgetown.