With the 86-83 Irish win, Notre Dame (18-4, 8-2) extended its school-record home winning streak at the Joyce Center to 34 games, while Marquette (16-6, 6-5) dropped its second straight conference game. Because of a well-balanced scoring attack that saw five players put up double figures as well as confusing defensive schemes drawn up by Brey, Notre Dame was able to fend off several late Golden Eagle runs to seal the victory, keeping the Irish in second place in the Big East.
As coach Brey took a seat to field questions from reporters, he sighed with relief over winning the tight contest. "What an afternoon in that building," Brey said. "They're really good. I was proud of how we had to hold them off cause you know it was coming. I thought we were really smart down the stretch, made free throws, a real team effort."
Although the Irish were able to muster up a win, several members of the team were not in their optimal condition. A strain of stomach flu has been affecting a number of Notre Dame's players. "[Rob] Kurz had a stomach virus all day yesterday and didn't practice," Brey said. "[Zach] Hillesland threw up before the game and so did Harangody. So I'm thinking that karma may be swinging in this building, quite frankly, when our trainer tells me this at 11:30. So for us to find a way to get out of there with a win, we'll take it. We need to get a little rest before we head to Storrs."
Down the stretch, several Notre Dame turnovers and haphazard play consisting of forced shots led to a Marquette run that brought them to within one point. Towards the end of the game, Notre Dame's offensive output sputtered, giving the Golden Eagles a chance to gain some ground on the Irish. With four minutes left in the game Notre Dame had scored 78 points, only eight fewer than their final mark. However, composed free throw shooting helped keep the distance between the rivals. Within the final minuets of the contest, both Luke Harangody and Jonathan Peoples sunk all six free throw attempts.
Coach Brey alternated from man-to-man defense early on in the contest, to a 1-2-2 zone that put pressure on the ball handler at the top of the key from swingmen Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland. The defensive strategy, combined with an overall poor shooting performance from the Golden Eagles, who missed several open shots during the first half, sealed the Irish victory.
Sophomore forward Luke Harangody struggled from the field throughout the game, often times forcing shots when double-teamed. The Golden Eagles put the responsibility of handling the Big East's leading scorer to forwards Ousmane Barro and Lawrence Blackledge, who used their size and physical presence to frustrate Harangody. Despite the 4-12 shooting performance, the sophomore forward finished with 18 points to lead the Irish. Harangody, one of the leading candidates for the Big East player of the year, also picked up 11 boards for his twelfth double-double of the season.
Although it was not Harangody's best performance, he still drew praise from Golden Eagle head coach, Tom Crean. "He's a good player," Crean said. "He's a really good player. He deserves all of the accolades and credit that he gets. He's a force. He's going to be a good good player for a long time."
Leading up to the contest a great deal was made of the match up between sophomore point guard Tory Jackson and Dominic James of Marquette. Luckily for those in attendance, neither of the players disappointed. Both of the dynamic guards have similar playing styles — they try to push the ball up the court when an opportunity to stretch the defense arises, and aren't afraid to box out bigger defenders for rebounds.
Jackson had arguably his best game of the season picking up 14 points, eight assists and six rebounds on 4-of-12 shooting. The sophomore guard hit consecutive threes at one point in the first half. Another Jackson feature on display were his numerous drives to the basket that either ended in quick passes to his open teammates, or as in one case an adept spin move followed by a strong finish. The sophomore point guard dictated the pace of the Irish attack, and created many of the opportunities Notre Dame benefited from on offense. One thing Jackson put on display that Irish fans haven't seen much of this season is his ability to block shots. Early in the first half, Jackson rotated on help defense and emphatically swatted a Marquette shot attempt.
James brought his focus to the Joyce Center, and almost single-handedly propelled the Golden Eagles to snap the Irish four-game winning streak. When Marquette needed a score the most, they turned to their junior guard for the big shot. As time was winding down in the second half, James took Jackson to the hoop on three consecutive possessions for effortless lay-ups.
The Irish picked up solid scoring off them bench from Luke Zeller and Ryan Ayers. Since being replaced by Hillesland in the starting lineup, Ayers has settled into his comfort zone and found his shooting stroke. With 13:17 left to play in the game, Jackson was leading a fast break and dished the ball to a trailing Ayers who hit a pull-up three-pointer after being fouled. The junior forward then hit the free throw to complete the four-point play that sent the 11,418 in the building into frenzy.
Zeller had his best performance of the season picking up 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field, as well as four rebounds. Zeller made sure his presence was felt late in the first half when he took a Kyle McAlarney pass strong to the hoop with a left-handed flush. The junior center went 2-of-4 from three-point range, finding his stroke and gaining accolades from his teammates and coaches. "Obviously we're seeing with Luke Zeller, the light bulb is on," Brey said. "It's awesome to see. It happens for different kids at different times, and he's a confident young man, and I want to keep nurturing that."
Although Notre Dame will take the day off tomorrow to rest, Brey is already thinking of Wednesday's match up against Connecticut. "This was one heck of an emotional and physical investment. We need to get our legs back under us before we go to Storrs and face as hot of a team as us right now. I think they're better than when we played them in the second game of the [conference] season, but I also think we're better. I know that they want to get their hands on us."
MARQUETTE 83: Hayward 8-15, 2-3, 21; Barro 1-9, 0-0, 2; James 10-16, 0-0, 23, McNeal 3-15, 2-4, 10; Matthews 2-3, 0-0, 4; Fitzgerald 2-3, 1-1, 6; Cubillan 4-8, 0-0, 11; Burke 2-2, 0-0, 4; Blackledge 1-2, 0-0, 2; Totals 33-73, 5-8, 83.
NOTRE DAME 86: Kurz 2-6, 0-0, 5; Hillesland 4-6, 2-2, 7; Harangody 4-12, 10-13, 18; Jackson 4-12, 4-6, 14; McAlarney 5-11, 0-1, 12; Peoples 1-1, 4-4, 7; Zeller 3-6, 3-4, 11; Ayers 3-6, 1-1, 9; Totals 26-60, 24-31, 86.