Irish Notebook

SOUTH BEND, IN- Notre Dame opened against Cincinnati much like the Irish concluded their last game against Marquette. Poor shooting and a lack of ball protection highlighted the slow start. Luke Harangody struggled early contributing to the slow beginning of the game. The sophomore failed to notch a field goal in the first half, finishing 0-of-5 and forcing the Irish to look for offense elsewhere.

Harangody didn't buy into the stigma of a post-Marquette hangover. "I don't know about that," Harangody said. "We just came out to play Notre Dame basketball."

The 27-point first half performance tied Notre Dame's lowest first half offensive output of the season, matching the Irish effort against North Florida earlier in the season. As a team, Notre Dame shot 24 percent from the field, going 6-for-25, missing many key opportunities in the paint. As well as Harangody's struggles, senior center Rob Kurz missed several shots down low in the first half, going 0-for-6.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish allowed Cincinnati eight second-chance points through 11 Bearcat offensive rebounds. With Harangody sitting out the waning moments of the half due to foul trouble, Cincinnati capitalized on his absence, scoring 18 points in the paint in the half and outrebounding the Irish by three.

Luckily for the Irish, it was a tale of two halves. Notre Dame came out with defensive intensity and poise picking up two quick field goals off of Bearcat turnovers thanks to the Irish physical full court press. Cincinnati appeared flustered as Irish defenders swarmed to the ball handler.

The Irish forced Cincinnati into a quicker-paced, high tempo game that marked a drastic shift in momentum. Mike Brey's squad achieved this through increased help defense resulting from a collective and physical effort.

After junior forward Ryan Ayers picked off a Bearcat inbounds pass and scored an easy lay-in, Notre Dame took the lead and never looked back, on their way to a second-half offensive explosion on the way to a 64-point-half.

***Sophomore guard Tory Jackson excelled on both sides of the ball against the Bearcats picking up several assists in transition, while helping limit Big East Player of the Week Deonta Vaughn's offensive production. The sophomore guard, who was fifth in the Big East in scoring with 17.3 points, finished 3-of-13 from the field, resulting in eight points. Although the Irish switched between a 2-3 zone and man-to-man defense, Jackson held the responsibility of covering the prolific scorer, causing him to force several shots and turn the ball over.

The sophomore guard acknowledged that Vaughn is a quality player, but admitted that the Irish had prepared for him. "He's a great player," Jackson said. "We planned for him all week. We were looking to make him shoot some bad shots and force him a little. He knocked some down but we wanted to frustrate him."

Jackson did it all on Tuesday, even playing like a big man. On several occasions, the 5'11" guard ventured into the paint, boxing out Bearcat players hauling in five rebounds.

On offense, Jackson was the primary director of Notre Dame's transition points. The sophomore guard quickly looked up court, trying to find the open man converting easy fast break points. Even when the Cincinnati defenders tried to press him, Jackson helped create opportunities for his teammates leading to the offensive explosion in the second half. The guard relied on quick decision-making and excellent court vision to create field goals while picking up eight assists on the night. Thanks to Jackson, Irish big men Harangody and Rob Kurz shook off poor shooting in the first half helping seal Notre Dame's 31st consecutive home win.

Late in the game, Jackson hurt his knee when trying to break the Bearcat press. In a precautionary measure, he came out of the game, but should not miss any playing time.

***Not coincidentally, Notre Dame gained their momentum once the potent duo of Kyle McAlarney and Luke Harangody picked up the offensive pace. Despite the weak first-half shooting performance, Harangody finished 6-for-14 from the field notching a game-high 25 points. Typical to his play all season, the sophomore forward drew contact while penetrating to the basket, leading him to visit the free-throw line 15 times, converting on 13 of them. Harangody brought the crowd back into the game, scoring nine straight points starting the Notre Dame run in the second half.

McAlarney shot 62.5 percent from the three-point line and was 7-of-10 overall on his way to 22 points. The junior guard heated up because of his movement without the ball. Several times, his teammates found him rolling off of screens giving him space and time to sink his shots. Kurz was the third-leading scorer for Notre Dame, chipping in 11 second-half points and finishing with a total of 17.

***After the feeble Irish first half, many expected Coach Brey to be noisy and vocal during intermission. According to the players, however, the adjustments and changes came from themselves. Harangody did say that Coach Brey advised them to loosen up and play their style of basketball. "He got on us about what we were doing," Harangody said. "He told us to relax and play comfortable."

Tory Jackson said that the atmosphere in the locker-room at half time was upbeat and lively, contrary to their play. "Coach came in and told us some things," Jackson said. "But it was mostly us who picked each other up." The sophomore guard flashed a smile as he recounted exactly what happened at half time. "Luke was cracking jokes," Jackson said. "Don't tell him I told you that though. Zach Hillesland added his two cents. We were just looking to go out and have fun. After the joking was over, we knew we could do it, we just had to get it done."


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