The Irish played with an intensity not generally seen in sleepy, non-conference November action in South Bend and eventually pulled away from the athletic 49ers, 82-62 in a game closer than the final tally indicates.
"That was a Big East game tonight with their speed and quickness," offered Brey of the undersized but aggressive 49ers. "I'm proud of our defensive effort in the second half."
A New Era
While the Irish defense received the bulk of (and deserved its share) of the credit for turning a 37-35 halftime lead into a comfortable 20-point victory, it was the attacking, almost angry play of Ben Hansbrough and Luke Harangody that proved too much for the 49ers defensively, as the pair combined for 26 second-half points while keying a decisive 17-6 run to start the second stanza.
Hansbrough sparked the Irish with a curling layup followed by a steal and outlet pass that led to a Harangody hoop in transition. The junior transfer from Mississippi State followed with a another drive and find, leaving a pass in the lane for junior Tyrone Nash and an easy dunk which stretched the Irish lead to 10, 47-37. Nash returned the favor with a steal and feed of his own, hitting Hansbrough with (an errant) pass to the corner for an open transition 3-pointer.
Hansbrough struck again with another foray into the paint for a hoop followed by a steal and later, a driving dish to junior Carleton Scott for a reverse layup and 13-point advantage.
Former Minnesota head man and current 49ers coach Dan Monson was impressed with Notre Dame's new starter.
"He's not just a standing shooter," Monson observed. "He bounced the ball and he hurt us."
Hansbrough entered the contest hitting 9 of 11 three-point shots this season (0-1 last night) but consistently burned the 49ers man-to-man defense with determined drives to the bucket, but as importantly, impressed onlookers with his aggressiveness and hustle throughout the contest.
"He is one tough guy; there's no question about that," Brey observed of Hansbrough who turned and ankle midway through the second and took a hard fall on his hip in the first half while trying to save an offensive rebound and (successfully) find a teammate in mid-air. "That was one heck of a fall," Brey admitted. "We just have to get him healthy for Sunday. I think as a group right now we are in a good place. We are pretty physically and mentally tough."
Both qualities were in short supply in the lost season of 2009 when the Irish fell short of national, local, and their own expectations.
Get on his Back
Lost in the effort and spark provided by Hansbrough was the now expected 29-point, 12 rebound effort of Harangody, who reverted back to his sophomore year plan of attack: dominate the low block at all costs.
"We knew we could exploit them a bit and get the ball down in the post," Harangody explained. "The whole game I thought I had an advantage and I missed a lot of easy shots too. I kind of rushed things; just point-blank shots that were right there and in the second half I just relaxed a little and was able to put them in. Tyrone (Nash) gave me some great post feeds."
Harangody posted 17 points and 8 boards in the second stanza, rarely venturing from the basket as the 49ers had no answer for his power and patience on the low block.
Senior tri-captain Tory Jackson added 13 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds while controlling the pace of the contest throughout and for the third consecutive contest, redshirt-junior Tim Abromaitis provided a spark off the bench, scoring 11 points (including 3-3 from beyond the arc) and grabbing 4 rebounds in 22 minutes.
Larry Anderson led the the 49ers with 20 points but scored just four after the break while Eugene Phelps put forth a yeoman's effort on the boards, collecting 18 caroms, including a troubling 10 on the offensive glass.
The 49ers were plagued by 12 second half turnovers and an 11-29 shooting effort from the field (1-8 from beyond the arc).
Notre Dame's next game is Sunday vs. the Liberty Flames at the Purcell Pavilion.
Note: For a full recap of each Irish player's performance last night, click here.