NOTRE DAME, Ind. – After shooting the lights out in a win over Louisville on Thursday night, Notre Dame needed to rely on its defense Sunday afternoon.
The Irish earned a tough 67-57 victory over South Florida at the Joyce Center to move to 14-10 overall and 5-7 in the Big East. South Florida drops to 8-16 overall and 3-9 in the league.
The Irish did not approach the 53.8% field goal percentage that they recorded against the Cardinals, converting just under 40%, but were just over 40% from beyond the arc and that along with some solid defense down the stretch was enough.
"We had to defend to win. It's probably good to have to gut out a league game that was kind of a grind-it-out game," Brey said. "Hopefully that's something we can build on. Your offense wasn't in a great rhythm, but you had to keep getting stops and rebounds."
Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney had 19 points apiece while Ryan Ayers added 12 and Tyrone Nash scored eight points in just 10 minutes of action. Harangody also had 11 rebounds while Tory Jackson and Zach Hillesland each had five assists.
After a slow first half, the Bulls made the Irish sweat in the second half before a scoreless stretch of 8:08 did them in.
"Our defense was amazing," Jackson said. "It's always a plus for us and we're always happy when we play well defensively."
Notre Dame took a 37-28 lead into intermission, but the second half was tougher than expected as USF battled from the start. The Bulls cut the lead to six a couple of times in the first few minutes before a layup by Augustus Gilchrist made the score 45-41 with 15 minutes remaining. A Harangody three on the next possession boosted the Irish lead back to seven.
But the Bulls kept coming and they eventually tied the game 51-51 with 10 minutes to play after an 8-0 run that featured three points from Verdejo and a three-pointer from Chris Howard.
"It wasn't like we played bad defensively, they just hit some tough shots," Jackson said.
"I never really thought we got panicked at all," Harangody said. "We held together and said, ‘Hey we need to start getting some stops right now because the offense isn't flowing well.' And that's what we did."
An offensive rebound and putback by Harangody put Notre Dame back on top before both teams went cold. The teams went over four minutes before another Harangody bucket gave the Irish a 55-51 lead.
McAlarney drilled a three with just under three minutes to play that put Notre Dame up by seven, 58-51.
South Florida went scoreless for over eight minutes until a basket by Alex Rivas Sanchez cut the lead to five, but another McAlarney trifecta pushed it back to eight with just over a minute to go to clinch it for the Irish.
"‘Gody set a great screen and I knew they were going to fly because I just hit one so I just gave him a little upfake," McAlarney said. "I want to take those kind of shots."
McAlarney took some shots in the second half that made Brey cringe, including a deep one early in an offensive set, but his final two shots gave the head coach some comfort.
"That he's fearless enough to take that one is why he made those other two," Brey said. "I never want to take that from a guy. Quite frankly, I don't think I would ever be able to take that from McAlarney."
Notre Dame was businesslike from the start. McAlarney hit three of his first four shots, including a pair of three-pointers, for eight quick points as the Irish jumped out to a 15-10 lead before the first TV timeout.
Nash gave Notre Dame a boost when he entered the game and scored four points as the Irish came out of the first break with a 6-0 run to increase their lead to 21-10 midway through the first half.
Nash came back with four more in the next couple of minutes and when McAlarney drilled his third three of the contest, the Irish had a 28-14 lead with 6:25 left in the half.
But a 7-0 run from South Florida cut that lead in half just two minutes later and the Irish needed a bucket from Harangody in the final seconds of the half to take a 37-28 lead into intermission.
McAlarney finished the first half with 11 points, while Harangody had eight points and seven rebounds. Verdejo led all scorers at the half with 12.