Irish Second-Half Explosion Downs Stonehill

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — No. 9 Notre Dame started its final exhibition tune up match against Stonehill much like it began its contest with Briar Cliff — pedestrian and sluggish. The finish, similarly, was reminiscent of the outburst the Irish employed to take down the Chargers in the second half. This time, the Skyhawks were the victims, falling 79-47.

Head coach Mike Brey was pleased with his team's overall performance, most notably on the defensive side of the ball.

"Well, defensively, we played a lot of different things and we did a pretty good job and we had to because that had to save us a little bit," Brey said. "It's awfully deflating missing six layups in the first half, probably maybe would have given you a different halftime score."

The Irish started the contest 0-for-4 from the field, as Stonehill converted on its first and third attempts building a four-point lead. Then, Notre Dame looked to its reigning Big East Player of the Year in forward Luke Harangody. Although the Skyhawks were double-teaming the junior when he received the ball in the paint, he accounted for he squad's first six points. Harangody used his low-post presence early on, but also showed his ability to hit the mid-range jumper. To cut the Stonehill lead to 8-6, Harangody drained a 16-foot jump shot in the corner assisted by Tory Jackson with just over 15 minutes left in the half. Harangody was the point leader in the game with 21, to go with his 10 rebounds.

Throughout the half, every time it seemed as though the Skyhawks were about to establish some momentum the Irish came back and answered with some offense. Off of a timeout, Stonehill guard Matt Hall sliced through the Notre Dame defense for an uncontested lay-up. On the next play, however, Zach Hillesland found Luke Zeller for an effortless lay up to put the score at 17-14.

On defense, Notre Dame started the contest out in man-to-man, but coach Brey chose to put some added pressure on Stonehill with a 1-2-2 full court press that fell back into a 1-2-2 zone. At the top, Brey employed the rangy, long arms of Ryan Ayers and Hillesland to annoy the ball handler. Although the press did not create many turnovers, it did manage to fluster the Skyhawks offense, and place them out of rhythm.

Stonehill was kept in it in the first half, largely thanks to forward A.J. Rudowitz, who poured in 17 points to lead the Skyhawks. Finding themselves down by a basket, Rudowitz connected on a jump shot to tie the game. On the next Irish possession, Rudowitz stole the ball from Hillesland and converted on an uncontested fast break layup to put the score at 23-21 in favor of Stonehill. This would mark the last lead that the Skyhawks would hold throughout the contest. Later in the half, a loose ball found its way into Kyle McAlarney's hands, who drained a three-pointer to put the Irish up four. After a Tory Jackson free throw, the Irish went into the locker room up 29-24 at the end of the half.

Notre Dame came out of the half with offensive momentum that would seal Stonehill's fate in the second period. Throughout the first six minutes of the frame, the Irish went on an 18-7 run emerging from quicker tempo from the transition offense. Stonehill coach Dave McLaughlin recognized this offensive aggression to be his squad's downfall.

"We played more to their tempo and that's what they thrive in," McLaughlin said. "They excel at getting quick shots and making them."

Jackson, who stole a Rudowitz pass and took the ball coast-to-coast for a nifty lay in to start the half, started the spark. Off of a Ryan Ayers offensive rebound, Jackson hit a 12-foot jumper on the other end, putting the score at 33-24.

The second half was characterized by a team effort that spread the ball to several of Notre Dame's weapons during the 50-point downpour. Jackson was instrumental in the half, leading most of the fast breaks and picking up 15 points and seven rebounds along the way. Zeller added 10 points and eight boards, while McAlarney sunk three long-range shots for nine points. Perhaps one of the more pleasant surprises from the contest against Stonehill was the play of sophomore Tyrone Nash.

"I was very impressed with Ty Nash's minutes," Brey said. "That is what we need from his position. He gives us a couple of put-backs and gives us stuff around the basket. That is what he has been doing at practice and that is the reason he is the guy we went to."

Nash finished the game 3-for-3 for six points, and added five rebounds in his 11 minutes on the floor. Although this is his first real experience and measures 6-foot-8, Brey used him as the anchor in his 2-3 zone, placing him in the center of the paint.

Harangody has been noticing Nash's play for some time now, due to the fact that he has to face him in practice consistently.

"We see his great play in practice all the time," Harangody said. "I think he just needs to get that confidence where he can go out on the court in a game and show people what he can do."

Notre Dame did show some flair in the win with a pair of flashy dunks in the second half. As McAlarney drove to the basket, he overshot a layup, but not one Skyhawk was there to box Harangody out, who slammed the ball home with authority. Later in the contest off of an inbounds set play, Jonathan Peoples found a wide-open Carleton Scott who finished with the easy dunk, to put the score at 75-43.

Now that the squad's exhibition games have ended and the start of the season looms near with USC Upstate next Sunday, Brey has seen some improvements throughout the preseason, which helped spark the second half offensive production.

"I thought we did a better job from the Briar Cliff game, to this game of not being frustrated when the offense wasn't going well," Brey said. "And I think that's why we were able to start the second half in a pretty good rhythm offensively and make some shots and move the ball a little bit better."

Jackson has seen this preseason as an opportunity to shake off the rust, but now knows that he and his teammates must work on being consistent.

"The first game really showed that we needed to keep our head," Jackson said. "Not focusing on the calls that the referees made. Just keeping it together as a team. And this game was more of how we were going to bounce back from mistakes. I felt like we handled it well with both challenges, I felt like we handled it well. But one thing we cannot do is play that way in the first half. We've got to be consistent in both halves."

Harangody also has realized that these contests have been a method to shake off some of the rust from the off-season.

"It was a good test for us today," Harangody said. "It took us a while to get going today, and that's going to happen a lot during the course of a season. It could happen to us in Hawaii. We just need to stay poised and stay inside our game. We know it's going to come. I thought we came out in the second half with a little more energy and bounce. The punch is going to come in our game, whether it's in the second half or at the end of the game. We are going to get that every game. We know how this team can play; we see it every day in practice. We never really get that frustrated because we know the offense will come."


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