Luke Harangody led the way with 24 points and 9 rebounds; and senior Rob Kurz recovered from a 0-4 start to make 9 of his last 10 shots en route to a 21 point 7 rebound game. Luke Zeller added 13 points off the bench as the ND offense had its way with DePaul for most of the game.
Freshmen Dar Tucker and Mac Koshwal led a second half rally for the Blue Demons, but they couldn't get their team all the way out of the hole they dug through the middle of the game. Tucker led all scorers with 28 points including 6-9 from three point distance. Koshwal powered his way to 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Irish were determined to have a faster start than they had at Louisville. "We need to come out with more energy than them," Kyle McAlarney said on Friday. "If we do that, we'll be fine."
Energy was abundant as the game opened with end-to-end action, but neither team shot very well. They got plenty of shots, Notre Dame 13 and 12, but they only made 4 and 3 respectively as the Irish took an 8-6 lead to the first break.
Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller entered the game after the first media time out and immediately made their presence felt. Zeller put a Kyle McAlarney miss back into the basket and followed with a three pointer moments later. Ayers nailed a three of his own and drew a charge, giving ND a 20-14 lead at the second break.
DePaul forward Wesley Green began to assert himself in the lane for the next few minutes. The senior center drove for two tough baskets and blocked a Harangody hook shot to help the Blue Demons close the lead to 22-20 with 9:42 left in the half. The Irish countered with a McAlarney three; and when Kurz rebounded another miss by McAlarney's and made the layup, the Irish lead was back to 6 points.
Defense started to make a difference at the 8 minute mark. Switching between man-to-man and zone, the Irish began to apply more pressure on the perimeter; and the Demons' half court offense stalled. Meanwhile, the Irish caught DePaul napping for easy break-out baskets by Kurz and Zach Hillesland; and Tory Jackson drove past DePaul's big men for a layup in half court offense. ND led 36-27 at the first half's last media time out.
The Irish finished the half with a passing clinic. In order, Jonathan Peoples assisted on a Kurz layup, Kurz fed Zeller for a three, Peoples found Kurz for an open three, and Jackson found Ayers for an open three in the corner just before the buzzer. DePaul managed just a pair of Will Walker jumpers during the Irish run, but ND took a 47-31 lead to half time.
Kurz led the way with 11 points and 6 rebounds at the half. Harangody added 9 points, and Jackson had what's fast becoming a typical line for him – 6 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and no turnovers. McAlarney was just 1-7, all but one shot coming from three point distance, but Zeller and Ayers picked up the shooting slack as both went 2-2 from beyond the arc.
DePaul's listless defense continued in the second half. The Irish opened with a defensive stop, and Harangody promptly beat the Demons' defense down the floor for a layup. Hillesland drove the lane at will in half court offense, assisting on a Harangody layup and two Kurz three pointers. The Irish led 60-32; but Koshwal, Tucker, and Jabari Currie had no interest in quitting. They turned up the defensive intensity, hit the boards, and started an 11 point run before Harangody answered with a basket from the post and a mid-range jump shot for another 2 points.
DePaul's young players continued to hustle, and slowly chipped away at the Irish lead Ayers and Zeller hit threes to counter baskets by Tucker and Koshwal, and the Irish led by 18 when the 12:00 media time out came. It looked like a comfortable Irish victory was assured, but the DePaul freshmen would have no part of that thinking. Tucker began to hit threes, and Koshwal scored with power moves in the lane. They cut the lead to 89-81 with 2:26 to play. Tucker had 28 points and Koshwal 21 at that point, and ND had more work to do if it was to secure the victory.
Zach Hillesland was fouled on a drive and split the free throws. After a defensive stop, Jackson made a 15 foot jump shot and the lead was back to 11. DePaul had to foul the rest of the way. McAlarney made 4-5, Kurz and Jackson each split a pair of freebies, and the Irish traded points with the Demons to get to the final score.
Despite a sub-par day from its best outside shooter, Notre Dame shot 56.5% from three point range. McAlarney rallied late to shoot 3-8 from long distance; but Ayers (3-3), Kurz (4-5), and Zeller (3-4) were today's outside shooting stars.
The Irish have the Big East's best rebounding margin, but they landed on the short end of that statistic for the second time in three games. DePaul had 41 boards to ND's 35.
Hillesland had a game high 7 assists to go with 9 points and 3 rebounds. Notre Dame assisted on 27 of its 38 baskets. With just 7 turnovers for the game, the Irish had an off-the-charts 3.9 assists/turnover ratio.
Notre Dame will host St. John's on Wednesday, March 5th at 7:30PM. There are plenty of seats available for Rob Kurz's senior day because the students are gone for spring break.