The Irish next play in two days. Notre Dame will host Connecticut on Saturday night at the Joyce Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 PM and ESPN will have the national television broadcast. It was no surprise that Harangody was once again dominant down low. But McAlarney's performance in the first half and Jackson's offensive surge in the second was what the doctor ordered in Notre Dame's Big East opener victory.
"This is a heck of a way to open up the Big East against a team that's so talented offensively," Brey said. "We held them to 56 points and the way we rebounded the ball set the tone for us. I thought we were physically and mentally tough tonight. That's certainly encouraging with what we have coming Saturday and through Saturday."
Jackson picked up his second foul at the 12:18 mark of the first half. Brey choose to sit his sophomore point guard on the bench until halftime. The man picked to pick up the slack was McAlarney. The junior got to play point guard last year in the non-conference season before his dismissal from school for an arrest for marijuana possession.
McAlarney looked calm and poised in leading the attack. Down by 18-17 with 10:48 to go before halftime, Notre Dame went on a 16-4 run to take a 35-22 advantage. McAlarney made several key assists in the stretch, including a pass to Zach Hillesland on a fast break that the junior forward dunked home, sending the Joyce Center crowd to their feet. McAlarney, known more his outside presence, had seven assists to one turnover at the break and was a big reason Notre Dame went into the locker room with a 37-28 advantage. For the game, the junior guard, despite scoring only seven points on 3-of-11 shooting, ended with nine assists to only one turnover.
"No problem," Brey said of McAlarney handling the point position. "It was great. I wanted to put Tory back in with two but we were playing so good I thought let's go with it. I'm sure Kyle enjoyed it handling the basketball. It's a comfort to have two guys that can do it."
Who did most of those passes go to? Harangody, of course. The junior leads the Irish in both scoring and rebounding and the Schererville, IN native served notice to the Big East on Thursday night that he's ready to become the special player Brey thinks he can become this season. Harangody missed only one shot in the first half. The junior was 7-of-8 from the floor before halftime, good for 14 points and five rebounds. As a team, Notre Dame connected on 62 percent of their shots in the first half and assisted on 12 of 15 made field goals.
Early in the second half, it appeared as if Harangody tweaked his back a bit and the junior had to come out of the contest for a brief stretch. No problem. After West Virginia (10-3, 0-1) had cut the lead to 41-34, Jackson scored the team's next eight points to help ease the advantage out to 49-37. Six of those eight points came on back-to-back three-pointers. Coming into Thursday, Jackson was only shooting 3-of-23 from behind the arc. The sophomore point guard scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half.
Also, the defense held West Virginia to 5-of-25 from three-point range and just 32 percent overall from the field. The Mountaineers, averaging 85 PPG and 49 percent shooting from the field on the year, were outrebounded 46-33 by the Irish and shut down by the Notre Dame defense.
"This is the best defensive team we've had," Brey said. "They learned how to do it last year. Thank God, we have a lot of these guys back here. We play team defense and help each other out. We do a good job of switching out on shooters and switching guys. That's been part of our development."
As for the MVP of the game, every time the Mountaineers tried to claw closer in the second half, Notre Dame would dump the ball down low and the big, physical sophomore forward had an answer with a basket. Harangody finished with 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field and the 16 rebounds was good for his sixth double-double of the season as West Virginia never got closer than nine points in the final seven minutes. If Thursday was any indication, the Irish will be relying a lot on No. 44 to guide them in conference play.
"He's a special guy," Brey said of Harangody. "We talked to him through the summer about being a great player and a special player. He's starting to believe that. We want to build on that. He's got teammates smart enough to get him touches and they really know how to play off of him."
WEST VIRGINIA 56: Ruoff 6-17, 2-2 18; Alexander 3-7, 3-4 9; Butler 4-12, 0-0 8; Flowers 3-8, 1-1 8; Mazzulla 3-6, 1-1 7; Nichols 3-9, 0-1 6; Thoroughman 1-1, 0-0 0; Smith 0-3, 0-2 0; Smalligan 0-5, 0-0 0; Sowards 0-2, 0-0 0; Thomas 0-1, 0-0 0; Talkington 0-0, 0-0 0; Totals: 22-69, 7-11 56.
NOTRE DAME 69: Harangody 11-16, 7-8 29; Jackson 5-10, 2-3 12; Kurz 1-5, 6-6 8; Ayers 2-4, 2-2 8; McAlarney 3-11, 0-0 0; Hillesland 2-3, 1-2 5; Peoples 0-1, 0-0 0; Zeller 0-0, 0-0 0; Totals: 24-50, 16-21 69.