Poor three point shooting and an uncharacteristic off night from the stripe let South Florida hang around. In the end, the Irish still pulled off the victory and clinched a tie for second in the Big East against the gutsy Bulls.
This was certainly a trap game for several reasons. One, the Irish had little to gain, having already locked up a bye in the conference tournament. Two, South Florida is an easy team to overlook with only three conference wins, but beat Syracuse and played Connecticut very tough. Third, South Florida had everything to play for with no postseason coming up. As West Virginia nearly found out at St. John's, the last regular season game for teams not making the Big East tournament is an upset in the making.
The Irish took a nine point lead into the half following a great buzzer beating 3 by Tory Jackson. The lead grew to 19 as Notre Dame showed plenty of offensive firepower starting the second half. A nearly seven minute span saw the Irish held without a single point. South Florida rolled out 12 straight points and cut the lead to seven. After that, the Irish were unable to firmly put the game out of grasp and staggered to the final buzzer before eventually pulling out a seven point victory.
Notre Dame only shot 63% from the line. Closing out contests from the line is usually not a worry for the Irish, but today it nearly cost them. Outside shooting was similarly cold. 31% for the team, Zeller and Ayers a a combined 1-7 off the bench.
Allowing 7 more rebounds for South Florida is not good. 13 second chances for the Bulls to ND's 5 also hurt. Thankfully, USF was so awful shooting (39% FG and 16% 3PA) that their 16 extra field goal attempts did not result in a win.
Tory Jackson had the previously mentioned miracle three, but only two more points to his name. 4 rebounds, 5 assists, but only 1 turnover. Solid game handling the ball, but did not create a lot of scoring attempts.
Kyle McAlarney had another decent game, not the kind of gamebreaking, lights out shooting that he is capable of, but not cold either. 2-5 from beyond the arc. 10 points, 4 assists, 2 turnovers.
Zach Hillesland was great, especially with Rob Kurz fouling out in 19 minutes. 10 points, 7 boards. Missed four of his six free throw attempts, the biggest culprit from the stripe, but played an overall great game switching between the 3 and 4 spots on the floor. If he can show the ability to rebound consistently like that, I would pencil him in as the leader in the race to win Rob Kurz's minutes next season.
Kurz was really tied up with foul trouble all game. 3 in the first half, fouling out in the second after only 19 minutes on the floor. 14 points, 5 rebounds before he left. Was a very good 6-8 shooting all over, making 1 of 2 beyond the arc.
Luke Harangody scored 21 and grabbed 9 rebounds. 9-13 shooting. Just an absolute rock down there. My ballot for the final Big East Power Poll and regular season awards is due tomorrow. He gets my for Player of the Year, no question. If he does not win the official award when it comes out, it would certainly be a crime. What a great improvement for a guy who was not even on the radar at the beginning of the year.
Off the bench, Ryan Ayers scored 5 on 1-4 shooting. 1 rebound, 3 assists. He and Luke Zeller were cold six days after winning the game at DePaul. Zeller was 1-5 from the floor. 2 boards, 1 assist as well. Jonathan Peoples played 11 minutes without getting into the stat book. Ty Nash saw a little playing time at the end of the first half.
Of course, you want to win more impressively but avoiding the upset is most important. Marquette choked on the road to drop to the 6 seed and West Virginia tried to do the same at St. John's. We avoided the loss and get to move on to the three seed in NYC. Next week, it's just survive and advance.
Around the country, Georgetown clinched the league with a win over Louisville. The Cards fell to a tie with the Irish at 2nd in the league. #2 is the best Big East finish ever for ND, well deserved after a great year.
Coach Brey is third behind only Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim in all time Big East victories. There's a good trivia question for your next party. A guy who was on the hot seat two years ago is now going back to a top seed in the Big East tournament and could win his second straight Coach of the Year award (he deserves it the most, but will probably not win).
Duke/UNC is always lots of fun to watch if you're a basketball fan. At Cameron, no less. Enjoy the game, especially with not having to cheer for one team over the other.