Irish Late Surge Downs Boston University

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — If No. 12/13 Notre Dame has learned anything about its young 2008 season, it's that the squad can't take any opponent for granted. Although it's the middle of December, Saturday night's game against Boston University had the feel of one in February. As the Terriers led for the most part, the Irish needed clutch plays down the stretch en route to pick up their 74-67 win.

Plays that head coach Mike Brey would eventually call, "winning plays".

"They got out of the gate fast, and we were scratching and clawing the whole game," Brey said. "But we made big, really fearless winning plays, which this group has done, especially in this building, so I'm glad we were able to find a way and win it, because I know in league play we're going to be in this kind of stuff a bunch."

None of the plays Notre Dame made Saturday were any bigger than a late Ryan Ayers three-pointer that put the Irish up for good. After Terrier forward Jake O'Brien hit one of a pair of free throws, the contest was tied up at 67 apiece, with less than two minutes left in the game. On the other end, Tory Jackson took control of the ball and called an offensive set designed to find Luke Harangody down low in the post. Since Boston had been double and triple-teaming the junior all game long, the passing lane was tight, so Jackson dribbled right, found himself in the middle of the lane, and found Ayers wide open for the long-distance shot. For Jackson, the court vision he displayed on the play came naturally due to the way the squad practices every day.

"To tell you the truth, we do that a lot in practice," Jackson said. "Sometimes our coaches, they tell the defense to do something, but they don't tell us what the defense is going to do, so you've got to react to it, and for some reason, that's just how I felt, you react to the play. I kind of had the feeling, because Gody had been scoring, just back-to-back, and getting these buckets, so I thought they were going to try and double-team him and they were going to leave somebody open, and Ryan was right there, and with him being the senior, he just had to let it go, and that's what he did and knocked it down."

If the play looked strikingly similar to those who follow Notre Dame basketball, it's because it came out of the squad's regular set in late-game situations. In fact, the play was exactly the same that Ayers used to net a game-tying three-pointer against Villanova a couple of years ago in a 66-63 Irish win, that turned out to be a turning point in the season.

"It reminded me of the shot against Villanova, which was the shot of the season two years ago," Brey said. "It kind of got us through and it came from the same guy, in the same set, our end-of-clock set for Tory, so I'm happy for him, he's going to be in that position a lot and I want him to be confident … Flat, that's our set at the end of the clock. It was a little higher up than the Villanova shot, the Villanova shot was a little deeper in the corner, but I had a flashback when Tory hit him, because that may have been the biggest shot of that season, because we came back and stole the Villanova win and started to believe a little bit."

After Ayers' big shot, O'Brien missed a layup on the other end, and the Terriers eventually fouled Kyle McAlarney, who hit both free throws to put Notre Dame up 72-67. After Boston's leading scorer in Corey Lowe put up a stray three that fell far right, Jackson claimed the rebound and converted on both free throws after being fouled to seal the contest.

The first half, however, was a completely different story. Terrier forward John Holland started the game on fire, netting the team's first 10 points. Starting the contest 5-for-5, Holland was scoring from all over the court, using his athleticism down low, and his shooter's touch from the mid-range. For the Irish, Zach Hillesland was responsible for the first five Irish points, thanks to his aggressiveness to drive and create layups. After Hillesland hit a free throw to complete a three-point play, Holland drained a 12-foot basket, followed by a Tyler Morris three-pointer. Notre Dame took a timeout, but couldn't convert on the offensive side of the ball, leading to a Corey Strong two, putting the score at 15-5 in favor of the Terriers with 14:27 to go in the half.

Part of the reason that the Irish struggled to keep pace with Boston was because of the Terriers ability to collect offensive rebounds. At the end of the first half, Boston had picked up 13 offensive boards, contrasted to the Irish four.

"Coming into the second half, I don't know what it was, something like 13, or the difference was like 13 at halftime and against a team like this, that kind of put a fire in me to go and take control of the boards because I know it was going to have to happen in the second half," Harangody said.

That is exactly what the reigning Big East Player of the Year did, collecting a game-high 15 rebounds, nine of which came in the second frame. Harangody also led all scorers in the contest with 23 points. However, the forward also finished with five assists, mainly because once double-teams were drawn his way, he found the open players for easy baskets. Overall, the Irish had three additional players hit double-figures as McAlarney followed Harangody with 16, Hillesland notched 11, and Ayers added 10.

Notre Dame climbed back into the contest with a 9-2 run sparked by back-to-back threes from McAlarney and Jonathan Peoples, but Morris answered with his own three pointer, followed by a pair of Boston baskets that saw the Terriers close out the half with a 33-27 lead.

In the second half, every time the Irish seemed to be poised to start a run and take a lead, Boston answered back in timely fashion, thanks mainly to Lowe, who found his shooting stroke in the period. After going 1-of-11 in the first half and picking up two points, the junior went 6-of-11 in the second frame, and 4-of-8 from three-point range. Leading up to Ayers' big shot, the game was tightly contested, as both squads traded baskets. For Brey, this game was a tense contest, which had him sighing of relief afterwards.

"Well, I'm really proud of our guys, because we were on the ropes a number of times against a very good team," he said. "I'm impressed with BU, and I wondered why I scheduled them the more I watched tape of them all week. They came in real loose, got out of the gate great and every time we tied or made a run in the second half, at least two or three times, they came out and hit bombs and for us to hang in there and find a way to do it, I'm proud of our group."


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