Kyle McAlarney ignited the 42-19 run with a pair of three point baskets after struggling from long range for most of the game, and Luke Harangody dominated in the lane as the Irish pulled away from the Panthers in the closing minutes. "Coach told us they're running out of juice, they're running out of energy, and this is the time to put our run on," said Harangody.
McAlarney finished with 15 points; and Harangody, the Big East's leading scorer, had a game high 23. Tory Jackson continued his run of outstanding games with a 16 point, 13 rebound effort. He added 5 assists and had no turnovers playing against some of the best defensive guards in the conference.
Now fully recovered from his bout with the flu, Rob Kurz added 14 points and shared the most difficult defensive chore with Zach Hillesland, guarding Pitt's Big East player of the year candidate Sam Young. "He's a great player," Kurz said. "He's tough to guard. I tried to use my length and take away his vision as much as I could."
Young had 20 points and 8 rebounds, but his missed dunk after a Ryan Ayers 3 point basket ignited the crowd in the middle of the Irish rally. When Harangody converted a McAlarney pass into 2 points on the subsequent trip down the floor, the game was all but decided.
Inside the Numbers:
The game featured the Big East's top two rebounding teams. The Irish entered the game grabbing 6.4 more rebounds per game than their opponents. The Panthers out-rebounded their opponents by 4.2 per game. The Irish won the battle of the boards, 45-37. The two teams were close throughout most of the game, but ND took command of the boards in the closing minutes.
Notre Dame shot poorly in the first half, just 37% from the field and 17% from three point range. Mike Brey was not worried that the shots would fall because his team was taking good shots. Brey doesn't want his team to hesitate. "I've been known to tell guys, ‘If you don't shoot, I'm taking you out,'" he said after the game. "I want them to be fearless." The Irish responded with a 48.5% second half, 50% from three point distance.
Pitt started the game with the Big East's #4 three point shooting percentage and was hoping to exploit Notre Dame's #8 three point percentage defense, but the Panthers made just 2 of 12 long distance shots in the second half after a solid first half from long distance.
Levance Fields played 25 minutes in his second game back from injury that was originally considered season ending. Matched against Tory Jackson when he was in the game, Fields scored 10 points and had 5 assists, but he fouled out with 52 seconds to play against the more physical Jackson.
Harangody, 6'8" and 251 lbs., and Blair, 6'7" and 265 lbs., staged a battle royale around the basket throughout the game as the referees "let them play". The rebounding battle favored Blair slightly, 13-12; but Harangody's late game surge earned him a 23-14 scoring advantage. "DeJuan Blair down low is a beast," observed McAlarney. "He's a lot like Luke in the way he plays, but I think Luke outplayed him."
Alternately covered by McAlarney and Jackson, long time ND killer Ronald Ramon was scoreless tonight. Ramon was 0-8 from the field, 0-6 from three point range.
Notre Dame, the top free throw shooting team in the conference, made 18-20 from the line. Pitt, 14th in the conference, made just 11-18, 61%.
The Key Plays
McAlarney's consecutive three point baskets at the 6:54 and 5:49 marks tied the game. Harangody stole the ball with 5:27 to play and took it the length of the floor for a dunk to give the Irish their first lead of the second half. The Irish never looked back.
Notre Dame vs. Syracuse on Sunday, February 24, at 2:00. The game is a sold out.