For the second game in a row, Luke Harangody struggled to start the contest, going just 2-of-12 with four points and six boards in the first half. Rutgers didn't necessarily do anything different to neutralize the reigning Big East Player of the Year, placing freshman forward Gregory Echenique and junior center Hamady Ndiaye with the responsibility of keeping Harangody in check. At the end of the day, Harangody simply felt that his looks weren't falling.
"It just wasn't one of my days," he said. "Every shot I put up, it felt good when it released from my hands, I thought it felt good and they were going in. All I can say is that I'm going to have games like this."
The junior forward also became visibly frustrated with the officiating, since Harangody was seen on the floor early and often. In the first half, the pre-season All-American who was just recently named as a midseason candidate for the Naismith Trophy did not pay a visit to the free-throw line once. To start the second period, however, Harangody's first two attempts drew whistles, sending him to the line converting 1-of-2 the first trip and sinking the lone shot the second time to complete a three-point play.
"It was a little frustrating in the first half," Harangody said of the officiating. "I thought I handled myself well in the second. I kind of just cooled down and let the game come to me. It's going to be like that in the Big East, it comes with the territory, so you've just got to keep playing through it."
Although he started the contest flat, Harangody exploded onto the scene in the second frame, igniting the crowd to build momentum. In addition to finding his scoring touch, Harangody also sparked his team with plays that won't appear in tonight's score sheet; numerous times, Harangody kept tipping loose rebounds and diving for errant balls to keep the play alive. In the second half, Harangody went 5-of-13, notching 16 points. Overall, it was some halftime adjustments that helped him to find his rhythm.
"It's mainly just me playing defense and rebounding," Harangody said of what he had to build on during the halftime break. "That's what I have to do when I'm not scoring. I kind of came out in the second half doing that, I got some putbacks, got some extra possessions and it helped kick start the team."
Coach Brey is extremely glad that his star forward made rebounding a priority, and expressed his content with the change in attitude.
"You know what, he got himself started on the offensive boards," Brey said. "He got a couple of missed shots. We missed some shots and he got a couple of putbacks and I think that jumpstarted him. He also, I thought, concentrated on the defense — probably rebounding. And I always tell him that, ‘if you're out of your offensive rhythm, rebound the ball on both ends and that will get you going.'"
After a somewhat controversial offensive foul gave Rutgers a chance to tie the contest in the waning seconds, Harangody made it count when it mattered most. After Mike Rosario's three pointer rimmed out, Harangody soared above the rest of the crowd to claim the board. He was subsequently fouled, and calmly converted both his free-throws to extend the lead.
"I knew I kind of let my team down the whole game so I thought, ‘I better hit these,'" Harangody said of the clutch free-throws. "Yeah, it did make up for it, but I said, ‘if I hit these, it will take some of the blame off me, so let me secure this one right now.'"
Harangody shared the honors of the leading scorer of the contest with Rosario with 20 points and added 15 rebounds, marking his 20th double-double this season, moving him to a fifth-place tie for the program record for double-doubles in a season with Troy Murphy.
BRINGING IN SOME HEIGHT: With just over 10 minutes to play in the first half, coach Brey went to a rarely used, taller lineup that employed Tyrone Nash and Luke Zeller as the big men, with Ryan Ayers, Jonathan Peoples and Kyle McAlarney as the three-headed guard combo. Up to that point in the contest, the Irish offense had been struggling to score some points. Rutgers held a 21-10 advantage when this unit stepped on the floor and ripped off a 7-2 run.
In the first possession this lineup had, Notre Dame was looking to get the ball to Nash down low in the paint and it paid off. The sophomore was fed the ball in the post, and converted on a spinning baby hook. Although he couldn't convert the three-point play, the next time down the court, Nash received a pass on a slashing drive and acrobatically finished his up-and-under lay-in. With a pair of unanswered baskets, McAlarney made it three consecutive field goals with a three-point bucket before Scarlet Knight Corey Chandler hit a fast break layup, to put the score at 23-17 in favor of Rutgers.
"Well, our bench has been really good," Brey said of the unit's performance. "All three of those guys were good at the end. It was kind of hard to get back to a big lineup because they were just playing really small and driving by our guys and our smaller lineup was being good at guarding. When we play with a smaller lineup, we're able to switch everything and not be in as much miss-matches. But those guys gave us a great blast, because we were down a couple of baskets, and then Zeller comes in and scores, Nash comes in and scores. Those three guys have really been giving us a great lift. Jonathan Peoples again, I don't even know his stats, but he finished the game making big plays. Rebounding, being active, he hit a big baseline jump shot, so we continue to need those guys and I think they're confident."
ACTION JACKSON: Tory Jackson was the second-leading scorer for the Irish in the contest, a title that hasn't necessarily followed him for the majority of the season. Coming off of Notre Dame's offensive explosion at Providence, in which Jackson was used sparingly, the junior point guard was extremely efficient in both his scoring and his distribution of the ball. Against the Friars, Jackson played only 12 minutes, picking up two points, partly due to People's emergence in the 103-84 win Saturday afternoon.
Although Jackson's mid-range jump shot hasn't found the bottom of the net at times this season, it was on display against he Scarlet Knights. The point guard went 6-of-10 from the field, finishing with 18 points to go along with four assists. In addition to his jump shot, the junior also slashed through Rutgers defense, finding open teammates, or simply finishing the play himself. Perhaps one of the more impressive stat lines from Jackson's performance, however, was his ability to find his teammates while protecting the ball and limiting turnovers. In the contest, Jackson gave the ball away only once.
This loose play is something that Brey would love to see more consistently out of his starting point guard.
"I don't know, but we needed it," Brey said. "I think for him, it's just the spiral and the cycle of the season. I talked to him and I showed him some tape of how he played last year against these guys. He was really good against these guys last year, and there was actually a highlight of him; ESPN regional did a little highlight and I showed him that. We need him attacking like that and knocking down some 12, 15 footers."