After a rough two weeks, the team was due for a good game. It was great to see them finish off a good opponent after missing a great chance at Louisville. Oh, what this season might have been...
Say what you want about yesterday's result, whether it was merely a blind squirrel finally finding a nut, how the team should have been performing all year, or an example of Luke Harangody's (negative) impact on the team's cohesiveness. To be honest, there is a little bit of all three there.
The Irish played very good defense, holding Pitt to just 42% shooting for the night. They hustled out there. I haven't seen the Irish go after loose balls or challenge shots with that kind of effort all year. They would have been a lock for the tournament if last night's performance had been the norm this season.
Jack Cooley and Mike Broghammer really showed up off the bench. While it is easy to use their success now as an indication for how Coach Brey has mismanged the rotation, I guess it's better to play the two freshman bigs late than never. Cooley's four boards helped the Irish finish with a nine rebound advantage for the contest. When was the last time that happened against a ranked opponent?
Tory Jackson had a great offensive game. 14 points and 7 assists with just 3 turnovers. He shot extremely well, including 3-5 from beyond the arc. While Tory has never developed into a primary scorer, the team needs him to contribute like this in order to be successful.
When your top rebounder is injured, you need other people to step up and hit the glass. Ben Hansbrough had 9 rebounds last night to go with his 15 points. His outside shot wasn't falling, but he was able to take it inside and get most of his points on layups and midrange jumpers. That's an important quality in a shooting guard, one that we did not get a whole lot from Kyle McAlarney or Ryan Ayers last year.
Abro was the leading scorer with 17. 9 of those points did come from downtown and he chipped in with a perfect 4-4 from the charity stripe. Throw in 5 rebounds for good measure.
Carleton Scott is starting to look more and more comfortable in his starting role. I liked how he was able to chip in with a couple open threes when he got a chance, but never forced anything with the ball. For most of the year, that shooting touch has been lacking. If he can develop into an under-the-radar scorer (usually the fourth or fifth option on offense) in addition to the solid defense and rebounding he provides, it will be hard to take him off the floor.
Ty Nash might have been the most impressive one of the bunch. Finally looking confident as a post scorer, he was able to pick up 13 points on the night. Most importantly, he went 7-8 from the line. That physical style will rack him up points in a hurry if he can figure out how to shoot free throws. Last night was a huge step in the right direction. He also finished with 7 rebounds. This was the first game where he really started to look like he belonged as a Big East post player.
Off the bench, Coley earned 13 minutes. He did not score, but played a huge role in filling the paint on defense and grabbing 4 rebounds. Likewise, Mike Broghammer played well as another large body, though he didn't do anything too impressive on the stat sheet. Five minutes for Jonathan Peoples marked the first time all year he hasn't earned double-digit playing time.
I like this team better without Harangody than when he is healthy, I really do. This squad plays tough defense, hustles all over the floor, and is very unselfish. While I love Luke and have enjoyed watching him put up big numbers the past four years, games like this make me excited for next season. With the right work ethic and a chip on the shoulder mentality, next year's bunch might actually see a bit of sustained success.