Sunday, November 30, 2008

Notre Dame 93, Furman 61

No Harangody, no problem. Luke was nowhere to be seen, but a bloodied Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers picked up the slack to get an easy win.

Rust is a worry after four games in a week, but the Irish showed no signs of a letdown after the opening minutes and played well throughout. Carleton Scott and Ty Nash played well in extended minutes and Luke Zeller rebounded well enough to make up for Harangody's absence as we set a new school record for consecutive home wins.

Tory Jackson continued the improved play he found in Maui, scoring 17 with 8 assists and 6 rebounds. I firmly believe he will earn the second triple double in school history before his career is done. Tory has always been a good distributor and one of the best rebounding guards in the nation, but an added scoring ability will make him an fantastic offensive weapon to go with his strong defense.

Kyle McAlarney was well on his way to breaking the school record he owns for three pointers in a game (set at 10 on Wednesday) before receiving a blow to the mouth that sent him to the locker room. He returned with a bloody jersey and perhaps a few stitches, but was able to get his shot back and finished with 32 points on nine three pointers in only 28 minutes, his fewest since December 8th, 2007.

Ryan Ayers had a career high 19 on 8-13 shooting to go with three rebounds. Lots has been said about how Ayers will need to step up on a cold night from McAlarney and he showed the ability to do so today. He will be given many opportunities to score with players like Mac and 'Gody around him. It was nice to see that he can confidently knock down open looks given the chance.

Zach Hillesland tied a career high for rebounds at 12 and added 8 points and 5 assists in a very solid game overall. He made 4 of 7 free throws and was the poster boy for our foul shooting problems in Maui (the two near air balls against Texas come to mind). Though he seemed to improve as the game went on, a 56% average from the line does not give one confidence. Perhaps Jonathan Peoples (84% last year) should see more time at the 3 in close situations. Complaint about the foul shooting aside, it was nice to see Hillesland play like a true power forward and help the Irish outrebound Furman by 13.

Luke Zeller also rebounded well, but struggled with his shot a bit. 8 rebounds, including 4 on the offensive glass, but only 3 points on 1-7 shooting. Still, he did what was needed under the basket and really picked up his game in the absence of Harangody. Those 8 rebounds in 26 minutes is pretty close to Gody's normal grab with his playing time.

Off the bench, Peoples, Nash, and Scott all played over 18 minutes. Coach Brey used an added starting slot and blowout win to his benefit by giving all three guys significant increases in playing time. The final five or six minutes of the game saw a lineup of mostly Peoples, Scott, Ayers, Nash, and Hillesland. In addition to letting McAlarney and Jackson rest their legs, having the large athletic lineup gave the Irish a different dynamic on offense and Scott an opportunity to showcase his skills within the regular flow of the game. 4 points, 6 rebounds for Peoples (like Jackson, a very good rebounder for a point guard). 6 and 3 for Nash. 4 and 4 for Scott. Very impressive stat lines for all three guys.

The fear going into this game was that our team would be rusty and lose a lot of our rebounding and inside scoring ability. Winning this handily has to give them confidence for South Dakota on Tuesday and Ohio State next weekend. Polls come out tomorrow and you have to like our chances at moving up a spot or two. More on that then.

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