A win on the road in the Big East is always great to see, but this one got way too close at the end. Ultimately, however, you have to be happy about closing out a close game. Especially with the ball in Luke Harangody's hands in the final seconds as opposed to our normal point guard isolation.
With 10:30 left, the Irish held a 13 point lead with some sizable momentum following a back-and-forth first half. Cue the six minute scoring drought. As the Irish went 0-7 from the field, South Florida was able to cut the deficit down to one and the game stayed close from there on in. Bad stretches like that happen, but you can withstand them with good defense. Once again, the Irish allowed a team to perform well over its season average efficiency (13 points higher, in fact) with almost 53% shooting from the floor. We can't just count on our scoring ability to bail this team out consistently.
In the final six and a half minutes, 8 of our last 14 points came from the foul line including really important contributions from Tory Jackson and Ty Nash. Those are two guys who have struggled in the past from the charity stripe so hopefully this clutch shooting will continue. We'll need them on the floor in the closing minutes of key games to come this year.
I did like how the team did not flinch when things started to crumble in the final minutes. Down 2 with 1:48 remaining, the Irish went back to its All-American for a tying bucket, counted on some clutch points from Ty Nash once again, and finally won the game by putting the ball in Harangody's hands with a chance to draw a foul and win it with a free throw. Any Notre Dame basketball fan has seen the same ineffective last second point guard play dozens of times. Coach Brey changed it up tonight and he really deserves some credit for this one-point win.
Jackson had some trouble shooting the ball, but was a perfect 4-4 with his free throws. He's 58% this year, but made them when they counted tonight.
Ben Hansbrough was completely off, especially down the stretch. He nearly killed us in the final minutes and finished 1-6 for 3 points.
Tim Abromaitis also struggled to finish with 10 points. Though four players scored in double figures tonight, clearly Luke Harangody carried the team. That scares me a lot and I do not think we can win any games of consequence with that formula, but it worked tonight.
Ty Nash had a very respectable 11 and 7, but once again those foul shots were what made the difference. 5-6 from the line for him, just about perfect in a couple very high pressure situations. He's also just 57% from there for the year.
Harangody took five three pointers again, but he made four of them. Go figure. His 23 shot attempts were nearly double that of any other Notre Dame player. Too often the team looks to him for option A, B, and C on offense, but clearly we needed it tonight. 36 points with just 6 rebounds. South Florida was able to convert a frustrating amount of second chances when the Irish needed defensive stops, but Harangody and Nash also chipped in with offensive rebounds for Notre Dame.
Off the bench, just 3 points. Notre Dame's lack of an effective bench was less noticeable than usual due to South Florida going basically just six deep. Kudos to Scott for snagging 5 rebounds in his 8 minutes and hitting a three, but you have to wonder why he wasn't on the floor more when his defense and athleticism could have made a difference.
Though the way ND almost gave the game away in the final minutes does not rest well, the ultimate result is a very positive one. Make no mistake, USF is a talented team. We were predicted to lose this by Ken Pomeroy and very well could have, but a Big East win on the road is what we're heading home with. Time to bunker down for a tough upcoming three game stretch (West Virginia, @ Cincy, and Syracuse).