NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey hinted that there would be changes to the starting lineup before Monday's game against Marquette and he followed through with two.
Jonathan Peoples and Luke Zeller started in place of Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland against the Golden Eagles. Unfortunately, the changes did not result in a different result as the Irish (12-7, 3-5)dropped their fourth straight, 71-64 to Marquette (18-2, 7-0).
Zeller and Peoples were greet with loud receptions from the soldout crowd when they were introduced during pregame. Zeller had the first bucket of the game with a midrange jumper on the Irish's initial trip down and later drilled a pair of threes to keep the Irish within striking distance in the first half.
"I liked what those guys gave us," Brey said. "I thought Zeller, being a shooting threat on the floor early, making them helped us."
Brey started the same group in the second half, but only waited two minutes before subbing in Hillesland and Ayers.
While Zeller made an impact in the first 20 minutes, Peoples hit a pair of big three-pointers in the second half. Peoples' first trifecta gave Notre Dame a 43-42 lead with 13:07 left and his second three extended the Irish lead to 48-44 with 10 minutes to play.
"I thought Jon Peoples gave us some tough minutes and battled," Brey said. "The shots he made were almost extra because that's not something he does."
The boost that Peoples and Zeller provided was good, but neither was able to come up with the difference-making play in the end, with Zeller missing a three-pointer that would have cut the deficit to two in the final minute.
"I felt real proud to start today, but unfortunately we got a loss," said Peoples. "I've been looking forward to it for awhile, but like I said it didn't change anything."
Zeller felt like his performance was wasted.
"It doesn't feel that good when you don't win," said Zeller. "It doesn't mean anything right now, I'd rather get the win than anything else."
Look for the Irish to send out the same lineup against Pittsburgh on Saturday.
"I would anticipate we'd start the same way," Brey said.
COMING OFF THE BENCH: While Zeller and Peoples' games improved in their new roles, the change did not do much to get Ayers or Hillesland going.
"When we made the change it wasn't like a demotion, it was just to start the game differently and maybe help them," Brey said. "The guys that started, it was better for them, but the guys that didn't start, they didn't give us much."
Coming off a 1-for-10 performance against UConn, Ayers' shooting woes continued as he missed all seven of his shots, including six from behind the arc.
"I feel for Ryan Ayers a little bit. I think he's the fourth three-point percentage guy in the league and he's in a tough stretch," said Brey, who added that Ayers did provide some defense late. "But he's got to make shots for us and has, so we'll keep working on that."
Hillesland did not score and played just four minutes in the second half after twisting his ankle. In fact, Notre Dame got zero points from its bench.
The offensive output from Peoples and Zeller helped alleviate the absence of production from Ayers and Hillesland, as did the fact that the Golden Eagles did not get any points from their bench either.
Some fans had been calling for Tyrone Nash to get more time and he did on Monday, playing eight minutes. Nash did not score, but he grabbed a couple of rebounds and drew a couple of fouls. Nash also provided some pressure on the defensive end in the game's final minutes.
"Certainly Ty Nash's bounce and activity is something that we need and will continue to develop," Brey said.
SAME OLE ‘GODY: Despite all of the changes around him, Luke Harangody delivered another Harangody-like performance with 29 points and 17 rebounds.
Harangody started the game by making his first four shots and showed off his versatility with a three-pointer, some fadeaways and a hook shot. He finished the half with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds.
But the last few games have proven that Harangody cannot do it by himself.
"They did a good job tonight of really just staying with me," said McAlarney. "I must have went backdoor hundreds of times. Acker and James hats off to them."
Marquette head coach Buzz Williams lauded Acker for his effort.
"Maurice Acker didn't score a point again, but he was the MVP of our team in regards to his defensive effort on McAlarney," said Williams.
Williams admitted that he decided that it would be too difficult to defend Harangody and decided to play with a smaller lineup for offensive purposes.
"I didn't think that we did a good enough job of preventing Harangody from getting deep touches," said Williams. "So if our big guys can't do it, we might as well let our guards try to guard him and that way we're much more efficient offensively."
Ayers' struggles are magnified when McAlarney is keyed on.
"When they take McAlarney away we need a Zeller, Ayers," Brey said. "We haven't been able to get that secondary shooter enough and against these teams you're just not going to beat them in the stretch we're in unless another guy bangs down a couple."
ANOTHER LOUD CROWD: 18 students in the front row spelled out ‘New Streak Starts Now' with letters painted on their chests, but they will have to wait at least until February for a new streak to start.
The students set the tone for the crowd and just like the Connecticut game, the rest of the fans followed their lead. But just like the Connecticut game, it was not enough.
There were a fair amount of Marquette fans who made the 185-mile trek down from Milwaukee, but the Joyce Center seemed to take that as a challenge and gained energy from the Marquette fans' outbursts.
The Golden Eagles fans chant of ‘We Are Marquette' at the end of the game was drowned out by ‘We Are ND', but Marquette did get the final say.