Missing Man Formation

Stony Brook University was intended to be a final tune-up for Notre Dame before the rigors of the Big East set in. Then starting point guard Kyle McAlarney found himself on the wrong end of an indefinite suspension, and the game became a crash course for freshman Tory Jackson and the rest of the squad on how to operate the Fighting Irish's high-octane offense without their floor general.

But McAlarney's absence didn't mean the Irish were without leaders, and the upperclassmen took control. Russell Carter scored the first nine points for the Irish on his way to a game-high 23. Rob Kurz was 11 of 14 from the charity stripe and hauled down 10 rebounds. Colin Falls drew four offensive fouls and scored 11 of his 17 points after the break. Notre Dame settled down after a rocky first half, and used runs of 13-0 and 17-5 to put the SeaWolves away 95-66.

Without the sure-handed McAlarney, the Irish struggled on offense early. Stony Brook kept up tremendous ball pressure, with coach Steve Pikiell seemingly content to use all five fouls for all 17 players, and the Irish had more turnovers in the first half than they'd had all game against Rider on Thursday. "They were really quick, and they pressured the ball a lot," said Kurz. "We got some hand-check fouls and were able to get into the bonus."

The Irish responded with defense and rebounding. "We had a pretty good scouting game plan on them," Falls said, "and we were able to lock down on them. People see us scoring a lot of points, but what they don't realize is we're only giving up 50 or 60 points per game. So we're playing pretty well on that end of the floor."

"That's how it's going to be even in the Big East," Tory Jackson agreed. "When the shots aren't falling, we have our defense to fall back on. That's what makes us so good as a team --- we're not one-dimensional."

"Our offense wasn't very good to start the game, but our defense has been playing pretty well," Kurz said. "Whenever you're playing good D, the offense will come."

And come it did in the second half. "We'd been a little stagnant," admitted Carter, "but once we got moving, we did what we always do -- screen, cut, create confusion for the defense. There's a different feel to the game being a man down, but we knew where our mistakes were in the first half and we adjusted."

"We've been playing five-out," explained Falls, "having our big men releasing, and they were denying that. That messed us up a little bit. But we started screening and cutting better, and we got in a better rhythm."

Brey cited the team's ability to eliminate distractions this season. "After getting our legs in the first seven minutes," said Brey, "I thought we started to feel it. Then we got into a rhythm in the second half."

McAlarney's absence meant the upperclass triumverate had to do more than score, they also had to teach, which Jackson cited after the game a big reason he was able to contribute late. "We've got a lot of young guys like Jon [Peoples] and Tory handling the ball," Falls said. "We tried to coach them on the floor a little bit, and they did well."

"As the older guys, the team counts on us to lead well," said Kurz. "We have to make sure we lead by example, stay steady, and provide the leadership they need."

"I told them," Brey said, "when I get Tory and Jon in there, help them. "Those guys have been great. Nothing fazes Colin --- what you see is what you get out there. He and Russ are extremely important."

Even though Stony Brook is not Louisville, the Irish remain confident. "This is what we've been waiting for," Carter said. "We're going to guard the same way we have all year, and continue to play hard."

"This was a good test," Kurz asserted. "They were really quick and had a lot of good athletes. It was good that they pressed us, because we'll probably see a lot of that against Louisville."

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