The Irish didn't score from the field over the games last six minutes, but they cemented the game by making eight consecutive free throws to hold the lead. Commenting on his team's psyche when Marquette came within a point in the closing minute, Zach Hillesland said, "This team is so confident and poised. We weren't really rattled. You could sense the fans saying ‘uh oh, here comes Marquette,' but we have confidence in all of our guys to step up and hit free throws and make big plays down the stretch."
Marquette came to the Joyce Center in a shooting slump, but the Golden Eagles found their touch on Saturday. They shot 45% from the field and 48% from three point range. Four late layup baskets by Dominic James surely helped the shooting percentage; but Lazar Hayward and David Cubillan were hot all day, a combined 12 of 23 from the field and 6 of 12 from three point range.
Notre Dame had a hefty advantage from the free throw line, making 24 of 31 compared to Marquette's 5 of 8. "On the offensive end we're always attacking," said Zach Hillesland. "We've got a lot of guys who get in there and stir things up."
Notre Dame entered Saturday's game with a Big East leading +6 rebounding margin, an average of 43.6 per game to opponents' 37.6 per game. The Irish had 43 rebounds on Saturday. The Golden Eagles had 37.
Jonathan Peoples and Luke Zeller came into the game averaging 19 minutes, 6.4 points, and 4.1 rebounds in conference games. With Rob Kurz, Zach Hillesland, and Luke Harangody fighting the flu, the two bench players needed to elevate their games; and they did not disappoint. Zeller contributed 11 points and four rebounds in 14 minutes, and Peoples added 7 points and 5 rebounds, including a pair of clutch free throws with 18 seconds to play, in 12 minutes. "I always prepare for each game. You never know when somebody's going to get hurt or somebody's going to get in foul trouble," said Peoples.
Saturday's victory extended Notre Dame's Joyce Center winning streak to 34 games.
The James – Jackson match-up did not disappoint. Jackson was the game's top scorer with 23 points. He added 6 assists and only had 1 turnover. Jackson countered with 14 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds. "I love playing against him. It's a very fun match-up. It's like playing against yourself," said Tory Jackson. "He's one of the best guards in the country. I respect him."
Hillesland and Peoples held Jarel McNeal to just 3 of 15 shooting. Peoples knows McNeal well. "I played against him in high school. He's a real good player."
Asked about guarding a quick guard like McNeal, Hillesland said, "I rely on my own quickness (and) a little bit of scouting. With my length I can play off him and still be in position to defend his shot."
Rotating three players on him, often with double team help, Marquette limited Luke Harangody to just 4 of 12 shooting. However, Harangody got to the free throw line 13 times and made 10 as Ousmane Barro collected 4 fouls, Lazar Hayward had 4, and Dwight Burk had 2.
The Key Plays
With 5 seconds to play in the first half, a Hillesland rebound of McNeal's missed shot, his outlet pass to Jackson, and Jackson's feed to Harangody for a dunk as time expired brought a thunderous roar from the crowd as the Irish went to halftime with a 10 point lead.
James cut Notre Dame's lead to a single point three times with driving layups in the last 32 seconds. Each time, Marquette fouled, and the Irish made both free throws each time. Harangody was 4 for 4, and Peoples was 2 for 2.
Marquette had one last chance to tie the game with 8 seconds to play. Jackson defended James from mid-court, forcing him to take time off the clock, and 6'8" Ryan Ayers rotated to defend the shot to make it difficult for the 5'11" James. The shot missed, and the Irish won.
The Irish travel to Storrs, CT for a Wednesday rematch with Connecticut. Game time is 7:00 EST.