Huge win. It was an ugly one, but the Irish took one step closer to a possible NCAA bid and, perhaps more importantly, eliminated the Huskies from Tournament contention. ND has moved into a tie for seventh in the Big East and holds the tie-breaker over Georgetown.
Both teams shot very poorly from the floor. Give the Notre Dame D some credit, but UCONN also missed a few open looks and airballed a bunch. Someone forgot to turn on the heat in the building.
However, you can't overlook the effort our guys put in tonight. This has been a huge improvement the past three games. In addition to moving their feet on defense, the Irish threw their bodies around inside to nearly break even in rebounding against a team with three guys at 6'10" or taller. Led by Tory Jackson and Ben Hansbrough, ND forced 15 turnovers, tying a season-high against Big East opponents. Out 10 steals for the night marked just the third time this year the Irish finished with double digits in that category.
The offensive output was the second worst of the year (to the Northwestern game) but that just underlined how effective the home team was in other areas tonight. If we can win with 37% shooting and ten missed foul shots, more success will follow with a good night shooting the ball.
What a fantastic Senior Night for Tory Jackson. The vocal leader of the team for the past four years, Tory led the way with 22 points. He was ruthlessly efficient at the rim with 8-14 shooting and added in a pair of assists and three rebounds even though the Irish put the brakes on the pace of the contest, frequently waiting until the shot clock read five before attacking the basket. When he was pulled from the game with a few seconds remaining, he received a much deserved standing ovation and gave a very nice postgame speech after putting the team on his back tonight. Thank you for four great years, Tory.
Ben Hansbrough had no shooting touch tonight, but tied Tory Jackson with 4 steals. Like any good shooter, he tried to get shot back with multiple trips to the free throw line. He was able to come away with 6 points even though he finished 0-8 from the field. He was also the second highest rebounder with 4.
Tim Abromaitis also struggled a bit with his shot, but had a little success inside the arc. 10 points and 4 rebounds for the Alumni Dawg. At the end, his teammates had some trouble getting him the ball in an opportunity to get fouled, which needs to change. Going 4-8 as a team from the foul line during a crucial minute-long stretch allowed UCONN to cut the lead by four.
Carleton Scott was excellent. 12 points, 14 boards, 2-4 from three-point range. His athleticism overcame the height disadvantage and allowed him to finish as the game's highest rebounder. Add in a pair of assists and 3 blocks for a great all-around effort. He combined all of his best attributes: solid wing defense, athleticism on the glass, and a bit of clutch shooting, for a fantastic performance.
Ty Nash had a bit of trouble putting the ball in the basket like a few of his other teammates. 5 points, just 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. When the Irish looked to kill the clock, he caught the ball far too away from the basket to be effective and we relied on some perimeter drives for points. That's not the kind of offense in which he can be effective.
Off the bench, Jack Cooley combined 3 points with 3 offensive rebounds in just 7 minutes on the floor. Jonathan Peoples' Senior Night was forgettable, just 2 minutes and a turnover, though he did get the token start in Abromaitis' place. Joey Brooks got in at the last second and so did Tim Andree, senior walk-on. Thanks to him for playing hard in practice all these years with so little reward in games.
So now we're looking at a very realistic NCAA bid all of a sudden. Who would have thought? With no Harangody tonight, you have to think we will be out against Marquette on Saturday. Keep playing like this and the Irish could enter the BET riding high on a four game winning streak.