Likewise, the season's first month unveiled a promising wing player in redshirt-junior Tim Abromaitis, a player whose continued development and scoring punch will help determine if the Irish are to challenge for a top five finish or remain relegated to conference also-ran.
But another essential aspect to conference success reemerged Wednesday night as senior guard Ben Hansbrough finally appeared fully recovered from an ankle injury he suffered in the November 22 contest against Liberty.
Hansbrough scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the first half and keyed a 25 to 7 run over a nine-minute stretch late to lead the Irish in a 93-70 victory over visiting IUPUI.
Prior to the contest, Notre Dame's defense had been regularly challenged in the first half by four of its last five home court opponents before buckling down after the halftime break.
Hansbrough set the pace from the outset last night with aggressive penetration while actively seeking his shot from beyond the arc; related elements of his game deemed necessary by his head coach, Mike Brey.
"I liked the fact that he took jump shots tonight. Coming out of Chicago he didn't shoot it well…we don't want to take away his driving ability because that's a great strength, but when he has an open look he has to shoot it," Brey observed. "He's a good shooter and tonight I thought he did that and it really helped us.
"He can score the ball and he was due for one of those but he still got five assists and just one turnover…he was driving the paint a lot tonight."
A departure from the norm
A healthy Hansbrough offers the limited Irish rotation a versatile off-guard that can create for others with his determined forays to the hole as well as consistent defensive determination and trademark toughness.
"We saw this earlier in the season," Harangody offered of the pre-injury Hansbrough, "he can kind of control the game with the ball; get to the free throw line; get (heavily involved in the game). We're going to see that night in and night out from him."
Hansbrough's aggressiveness resulted in continual trips to the charity stripe where he knocked down 8 of 9 shots.
"My dad always told me free throws are a good indication of how aggressively you're playing," Hansbrough pointed out post-game.
"He's one of those players that can get into the lane for us and draw some fouls and the good thing about that is we get in the bonus a lot earlier, too," Harangody added. "He opens things up for us."
Also aiding the Irish effort was Abromaitis who followed up his career high 31-point effort in Sunday's win over Central Florida with 18 points Wednesday night. The surprisingly productive junior moves better without the ball than any Irish player in recent memory (or at least one with the ability to finish at the basket) and he continues to score economically, knocking down 6 of 11 shots from the floor last night (4-8 from beyond the arc) and 2-2 from the foul line. Abromaitis is shooting better than 51% this season (43% beyond the arc) while hitting 21 of his first 22 foul shots over hist first 10 games.
"Ben and Tory get in the lane and he (Abromaitis) just kind of sneaks into open spots and he's knocking down shots every time," Harangody stated of the squad's newest starter. "It's great because that's going to take a lot of pressure off the inside for me, too."
Hansbrough offered first-hand knowledge of Abromaitis' off-the-ball ability.
"Tim Abromaitis is probably the best backdoor cutter I've ever (played against). Just from guarding him in practice he's always moving that big body around and he's quick with it too."
Hansbrough agreed with the assessment that Abromaitis "falls into points."
"He really does. He knows where to be and where to cut."
Harangody scored a season-low 16 points against IUPUI's zone but played one of his best floor games of the young season, finishing with four assists and (his requisite) 11 rebounds to go along with a season-high five block shots.
Harangody eclipsed two Irish legends during the course of the contest, besting former star point guard David Rivers (1984-1988) for fifth-place on the Notre Dame career scoring list as well as passing Bob Whitmore (1966-69) for fourth place on the school's all-time rebounds list. He needs 26 boards to catch Laphonso Ellis (1,075) for third on the all-time list.
Likewise, Harangody is 15 points shy of current fourth-place career scorer Pat Garrity (1994-98), a total he could achieve by halftime of Notre Dame's Saturday night contests vs. Loyola Marymount.
His fourth block moved him into eighth place on the school's career list with 86, just 11 behind former center Matt Gotsch (1993-97). The big man from Schererville would have to work to catch former teammate Rob Kurz in sixth place as Kurz swatted 122 in his four-year career.
"All Big East defense here I come," Harangody joked post-game.
Slightly slowed but still steady
Senior guard Tory Jackson showed occasional ill effects from the ankle injury he suffered in Sunday's win over Central Florida, running the show for 30 minutes and dishing out four assists.
Jackson will have time to heal his ankle with just two games in the next 10 days (as well as an eight-day break over the Holidays) a development that will be crucial as the Irish enter conference play on December 30 in a home tilt vs. Providence.
"It definitely messes with your mind a little bit," Hansbrough offered of a serious ankle injury. "I was talking to Tory about that a little bit at halftime: that its (his ankle) always in the back of his mind. Once you have an ankle injury like that its hard to get your mind off it. Once you get over that hump and once you're pain-free you start progressing and working your way back into (the flow)."
After a quiet first half offensively (two points), junior forward Tyrone Nash began aggressively cutting to the hoop and benefitted from quality passing from the Irish guard trio, finishing with eight points and a five rebounds. Senior tri-captain Jonathan Peoples added six points, six rebounds, and three assists in 21 minutes off the bench.
The end of the contest featured four highlight moments for freshman Joey Brooks and Mike Broghammer, the latter with two dunks in transition while Brooks drilled a 3 as the result of great ball movement and also executed a difficult finish at the rim on a feed from his fellow frosh.
Walk-on Tom Kopko also hit a one-on-one contested corner 3 in front of the Notre Dame bench, much to the delight of his scholarship teammates.
Notre Dame (10-1) will entertain Loyola Marymount Saturday night at the Purcell Pavilion.