Notre Dame shot a blistering 61 percent in the first half and led by 23 at halftime, more than enough to make up for some late sloppy play in a 87-75 victory over Youngstown State. In front of 7,461 fans at the Joyce Center, the Irish faithful were already recovering from a narrow 21-14 Notre Dame football victory over Stanford. The Irish basketball team gave the crowd plenty of reasons to relax and cheer as Notre Dame moved above .500 to 3-2 on the year with the team‘s 22nd straight home win. The Irish will next host Colgate on Monday. The tip-off is at 7:30 PM at the Joyce Center.
The win was a nice pickup for a team who lost back-to-back nail biters. The Irish went down to both Baylor and Georgia Tech in the final minute after holding at least a nine-point second half lead in those contests. On Saturday, Notre Dame got its confidence back by sharing the basketball and converting those chances into made field goals. The Irish assisted on 24 of 32 made buckets while shooting 55 from the field in the game.
"Offensive rhythm, offensive rhythm, offensive rhythm, repeat it three times," head coach Mike Brey said. "I was hoping we could get back into that on our floor. We had 24 assists and that's how we have to play. That helped us all the way around. Some of the things we practiced the last couple of days, I thought we did a better job of it tonight."
A player who never found their rhythm in the Virgin Islands was Kyle McAlarney. The sophomore guard shot 9-of-31 in the three games in the Paradise Jam Tournament, including a 1-of-11 performance in the loss to Baylor. It was also McAlarney's last second shot against Georgia Tech that rimmed in and out in the 70-69 defeat. The Staten Island native made sure to get back on track with some home cooking.
McAlarney was a big reason for Notre Dame's 53-31 halftime advantage. The sophomore guard nailed 4-of-5 three-pointers in the half, his last put the Irish up 44-28. McAlarney shot 6-of-13 from the field and 6-of-8 from the free throw line, good for a career-high 23 points. Coming into Saturday, the Staten Island native was only hitting 30 percent of his shots. If McAlarney shoots the ball from the perimeter as well as he did against Youngstown State (2-2), it'll make the Notre Dame offense tough to stop.
"With Kyle, you're a believer in the law of averages," Brey said. "He got more looks tonight. The two teams in the Virgin Islands physically took him away. We're going to run into that many, many times this year. I do think Youngstown tried to do that and had the bodies to do that. But he got off the dribble and had a better demeanor about himself. When he didn't get a shot early, he drove it and defended it and passed it. He let the game come to him. It's a growth process for him."
As McAlarney rebounded from a tough Virgin Islands trip, Saturday was further proof of who the go-to-guy is on the Notre Dame roster. Luke Harangody led all scorers with a career-high 25 points. The sophomore forward is not afraid to pass up a shoot, as evidenced by his 17 field goal attempts. But Harangody, the team's leading scorer, converted on 12 of those shots.
The sophomore forward scored 15 of the 25 points in the first half. Harangody scored in a variety of ways, either by running the floor and dunking the ball on a dishes from point guard Tory Jackson or by muscling his way inside for high percentage shots. It was the sophomore's third straight game leading the team in points and Harangody also pulled down 13 rebounds for his second double-double of the year.
"I really think he's becoming a great player," Brey said of Harangody. "I told him this is going to be the year you're going to be a great player. You remember last year when I told him he was going to be a big part of our program. He was like, ‘Really? Are you sure?' There was a bit of that in June and July but in August he became a special guy and he started to build up to that. His teammates know that and they get him touches."
Notre Dame got contributions from more than McAlarney and Harangody. Rob Kurz had another steady contest, totaling eight points and 11 rebounds. The junior forward, the team's top rebounder, continues to team with Harangody for the team's most consistent scoring duo, especially in the paint area. Jackson's stat line was full: nine points, six rebounds, six assists but did commit six turnovers. Zach Hillesland, Notre Dame's best weapon off the bench, once again stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.
The Irish once led by as many as 26 points in the second half before Youngstown State made a late rally to make the final score closer than what it actually was. It‘ll give Brey something to harp to his players about in the day of rest between Monday‘s contest against Colgate. But the win puts Notre Dame back on the winning track after consecutive defeats.
YOUNGSTOWN STATE 75: Barber 7-14, 2-2 19; Davis 5-17, 1-2 14; Cooksey 5-15, 0-0 13; Holmes 1-1, 0-0 2; Cotal 0-0, 0-0 0; Niemi 0-0, 0-0 0; Mrozik 0-0, 0-0 0; Boulder 1-3, 0-2 2; Johnson 3-6, 0-0 8; Sulskis 0-3, 0-0 0; Liles 7-11, 3-8 17; Totals: 29-70, 6-14 75.
NOTRE DAME 87: Jackson 2-4, 5-8 9; Peoples 1-2, 0-0 2; McAlarney 6-13, 6-8 23; Kurz 3-5, 2-3 8; Hillesland 4-5, 2-3 10; Zeller 2-4, 0-0 4; Ayers 2-8, 0-0 6; Harangody 12-17, 1-2 25; Nash 0-0 0-0 0; Proffitt 0-0, 0-0 0; Totals: 32-58, 16-24 87.