Irish Survive the RAC

Never take a Big East Game for granted. You may remember those words from our ND-Rutgers game preview. They proved to be prophetic as The Scarlet Knights took the Fighting Irish to the wire before succumbing 71-68. The Irish improved their record to 19-5 overall, 9-3 in the Big East. Rutgers fell to 10-17/2-12.

On a day when Luke Harangody struggled, 10 points on 5-16 shooting and just 8 rebounds, Tory Jackson and Rob Kurz filled the void. Jackson scored a season high 17 points and added 10 assists and 8 rebounds. Kurz scored 11 points and corralled 14 rebounds.

The first four minutes of the game were ragged, to say the least. It was a turnover contest interrupted by three point baskets. Kyle McAlarney made two from long range, and Tory Jackson added another before the first media timeout. J.R. Inman and Anthony Farmer made threes for Rutgers as Notre Dame went to the first break with a 13-10 lead.

Both teams came out of the timeout defending the perimeter, so the scoring moved inside. Tory Jackson penetrated, once for an assist and once for a basket. Rob Kurz scored four points on screen roll, once drawing a foul on Hamady N'Diaye and once making a layup. Corey Chandler and Anthony Farmer answered with baskets in the lane.

The Irish ran to a nine point lead between the 10:47 and 6:46 marks thanks to Ryan Ayers. In succession, Ayers made a three point basket; tipped in a Zach Hillesland miss; blocked a shot; pulled down three consecutive defensive rebounds, the last leading to a Jackson-to-Hillesland alley-oop basket on the break; and stripped a ball in the lane to trigger another Jackson-to-Hillesland fast break basket and a 10-point Irish lead.

It looked like Notre Dame was taking charge of the game, but Rutgers fought back with three point baskets by Earl Pettis and Justin Sofman to cut the lead to four. ND responded with a rebound basket by Kurz and a defensive stand for a shot clock violation to blunt the Scarlet Knights' charge. Harangody fed Jonathan Peoples cutting to the basket for a layup and Tory Jackson beat the halftime buzzer for a basket as the Irish took a 42-34 lead to the break.

Jackson led the Irish with 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists in the first half. Kurz, McAlarney, and Harangody had 6 points; and Ayers and Hillesland added 5 apiece to the balanced Irish attack. J.R. Inman led the Knights with 10 points, including a pair of three point baskets.

Rutgers started the second half making the statement that it wasn't going away. N'Diaye opened with a hook shot for a basket, and Farmer made a three pointer to cut the lead to two. McAlarney responded with a three pointer and a short jumper to restore the eight point lead; but the tone was set for the rest of the game.

Farmer led a 13-point Rutgers run to a 55-50 lead with 11:30 to play, making a pair of three pointers while the Irish missed open jump shots. Ayers and Jackson answered with baskets, Jackson's a three point play after a foul. His 15th point tied the game at 57 with 7:37 to play.

The Irish continued their run after the media timeout. Harangody tipped in a Jackson miss, and Kurz and McAlarney followed with threes. ND's 13 point run extended the lead back to eight, but Rutgers was not ready to quit. Mike Coburn hit a pair of free throws; and Earl Pettis took a steal the length of the floor for a floater in the lane and the lead was back to four, 65-61. The stage was set for a tense finish.

Rutgers quickly closed the gap to one point as Coburn made a fast break layup after a McAlarney miss. Inman followed with a dunk from half court offense after Kurz was called for traveling on a give and go. The Irish responded as Jackson found Kurz for a baseline jumper before the shot clock expired with 48 seconds left. It was a free throw shooting contest the rest of the way.

Harangody fouled Farmer driving to the basket with 29 seconds left. He made both free throws. Rutgers had just 5 fouls at that point, and the Knights inexplicably took 14 seconds to commit the sixth. The seventh foul followed quickly, sending Harangody to the line. He missed the front end of one and one, but Rutgers lost the rebound out of bounds. ND got the ball to McAlarney, who made a pair of free throws with 9.9 seconds left to make the score 71-68. Rutgers had time for one last shot to send the game to overtime.

Like they did eight days ago against Marquette, the Irish defended the last play perfectly. Tory Jackson applied pressure on the ball in the back court and forced Farmer to the sideline. Farmer passed back to Chandler for a shot with three seconds on the clock; but the 6'10" Kurz stepped out and Chandler's adjusted shot fell short of the basket and into McAlarney's waiting arms. Game over.

Game Notes:

Tory Jackson came within 2 rebounds of a triple-double. He had 17 points and 10 assists in 37 minutes of playing time. "I just don't think there's a guard playing better than Tory right now," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "We've hit our stride the last month because of how this young man has played. Today it was his will that said I'm going to find a way to get my team a win. Whatever we needed, he did."

Harangody's 10 points and 8 rebounds broke a streak of 6 straight double-doubles. "It wasn't the prettiest game we could have played, but we grinded it out," said Harangody, who was 5-for-16 from the field in his second lowest scoring output of the season. "The important thing is, we're 9-3 now, that's what we're looking for."

Notre Dame, the Big East leader in rebounding margin, had 43 boards to Rutgers' 35.

Rutgers entered the game averaging 15.4 turnovers per game. The Scarlet Knights had just 9 today.

The Irish made 8 of 17 three point shots in the game, 47.1%. They made just 41.7% of their two point shots.

Pittsburgh is next for the Irish. The Panthers, 19-6/7-5, come to town looking to recover from Saturday's 72-54 loss at. The game is this Thursday, February 21st, at 7:00 EST. Irish great Austin Carr will be honored.

The Associated Press provided input for this story.


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