Luke Harangody dominated the paint area with a 22 points and point guard Tory Jackson once again demonstrated he's more than capable of leading this team to the Big Dance as Notre Dame downed Marquette 85-73. The win moves the Irish to 22-6 on the season and 10-5 in the Big East. Not only did Notre Dame's fourth win in a row solidify their NCAA Tournament chances but gave them the inside advantage on the bye in the conference tournament. The top four seeds get a bye and the Irish are a game up on the Golden Eagles and a half-game ahead of Syracuse. Notre Dame owns the tiebreaker over both teams because of head-to-head victories.
The crowd was rocking and rolling in the loudest environment at the Joyce Center this season. After overcoming a first half double-digit deficit, Harangody's fantastic play down low, coupled with Jackson's ever-improving game, led Notre Dame to the huge conference win and, for the time being, moved them off of the NCAA Tournament bubble. They end home play a perfect 18-0 and now have a 20-game winning streak at the Joyce Center dating back to last year.
"That was a heck of an afternoon for basketball," head coach Mike Brey said. "It was a great Big East game. It was very physical. I'm proud of our guys because they're really good. Their team speed the first 10 minutes, we were having a tough time dealing with it. This group usually adjusts and finds itself. We're proud of being undefeated at home. Having double-digit league wins is a powerful thing. We beat a very good basketball team."
The going wasn't easy early on for the Irish. Marquette raced out to a 23-10 lead behind a blazing transition offense and Dominic James's dishing out of the basketball. All the loose balls were going the Golden Eagles' way and it looked as though they would spoil the Senior Day festivities for Notre Dame.
Insert Harangody. The freshman has been vital to the Irish's success this year. He gives them a wide body in the lane that can score and rebound. On Saturday, the full arsenal of his game was on display along with some physical play that's rarely been seen on a Notre Dame team. With Marquette's Ousmane Barro in foul trouble, Harangody often got the ball down low and converted. He had 12 points and seven rebounds at halftime in only 13 minutes of action. His production turned a 13-point deficit into a 42-36 halftime lead. It also helped that Notre Dame cleaned up at the free throw line. The Irish were 14-of-17 at the charity stripe before halftime while the Golden Eagles were just 4-of-7.
Harangody continued to dominate a foul-troubled Marquette defense in the second half. His teammates looked for him in the post almost every time down the court and he usually delivered. Harangody also drew a lot of fouls and capitalized at the free throw line, shooting 8-of-9 at the charity stripe. For a big guy to shoot 80 percent (season average going into Saturday) at the line is another benefit for Notre Dame. The 22 points is a new career-high for Harangody, the 13 rebounds ties the number set against Syracuse and it came at the perfect time for the Irish.
"It was a matter of his body language and him feeling good and getting into a rhythm," Brey said about Harangody becoming offensive option No. 1 in the second half. "He had that look in his eye. You want to keep throwing it in there and get him touches. I thought we were really wise on getting him low post touches the last six or seven minutes."
"We didn't do a good job on low post defense," Marquette head coach Tom Crean said. "No question about that. But I think we had to mix and match after that stretch in the first half. The complexion of the game changed. It became a very physical game. I guess we were a little too physical. We had too many guys in foul trouble."
Marquette (22-8, 9-6) was on the short end of the referee's whistle, especially in the first half. The Golden Eagles were called for 28 personnel fouls. At halftime, Marquette had three players with three fouls apiece and it caused Crean to go to his bench early and often. It softened up the defense a bit for Jackson. The Notre Dame point guard got into the lane with penetration and created scoring opportunities for him and his teammates. Jackson finished with a career-high 21 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. He was the only player on Saturday to play the entire 40 minutes, a testament to how valuable he is for the Irish. As the season has progressed, this freshman point guard has been a rock of not only production but leadership on the court.
"There were a lot of good guards on the floor today," Brey said. "None of them were as good as Jackson. He continues to get better and get more confident. It's truly his team now and he's a very confident young guy."
The outgoing seniors were not bystanders in the victory. Falls scored 14 points, the 11th straight contest with 14 points or more. He connected on four three-pointers and became the Big East's all-time leader in made buckets from the behind the arc. Falls passes Syracuse's Gerry McNamara. Carter didn't particularly shoot the ball well. The senior guard was just 3-of-12 from the floor but converted 7-of-8 from the free throw line, good for a total of 13 points and eight rebounds. His defense in the second half on James, who scored 14 points but shot a woeful 6-of-20, was critical. They wrap up their home careers on a perfect note and now can start eyeing a possible trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Hayward 1-5, 0-0 2; Barro 3-6, 0-0 6; James 6-20, 1-3 14; McNeal 3-10, 8-11 16; Matthews 7-8, 2-3 17; Fitzgerald 1-8, 2-2 5; Cubillan 2-6, 4-4 10; Burke 1-3, 0-0 2; Kinsella 0-1, 1-2 1; Lott 0-0, 0-0 0; Totals: 24-67, 18-25 73.
NOTRE DAME 85
Kurz 2-6, 1-1 5; Harangody 7-20, 8-9 22; Jackson 6-12, 8-11 21; Falls 5-9, 0-0 14; Carter 3-12, 7-8 13; Peoples 0-0, 0-0 0; Hillesland 2-3, 1-4 5; Piller 0-0, 0-0 0; Zeller 1-1, 0-0 3; Ayers 0-1, 2-2 2; Totals: 26-64, 27-35 85.