Notre Dame defeated the Friars, 93-78, in the first Big East conference game of the season for both teams.
Iron MenSix Irish players accounted for an aggregate 197 of the team's 200 game minutes last night.
Player of the Game – Jonathan Peoples: "One of the things I talked to Jon about when we made the change, and before the UCLA game, I said ‘Jon, let's talk about you as the sixth-man of the year in this league.' I think he certainly embraced that for the UCLA game (9 points and 3 boards in 16 minutes) and tonight. He's been fabulous."
If Brey's vision of Peoples as the ultimate sixth man comes to fruition, Notre Dame and its fans will breathe easily on Selection Sunday, merely waiting for an NCAA Tournament assignment rather than hoping the bubble doesn't burst.
Peoples has shown flashes over the last three seasons – flashes of athleticism (most notably with a vicious tip-dunk vs. North Carolina in Maui last year); flashes of consistency and leadership as seen last February in his 14-point, 9-assist, 28-minute effort off the bench vs. Providence; and flashes of a complimentary floor game, most recently in his 6-point, 6-rebound, 3-turnovers created effort vs. IUPUI in mid-December.
But he's rarely produced on a consistent basis, and he'll have to as a 20-minute plus per game performer over the next three months.
Good Hands Award – Tory Jackson: 11 points (4-7 from the field) and an encouraging 3-4 effort from the line is probably a minimum requirement for the senior captain if the Irish are to contend over the course of the season. But Jackson's 40-minute, turnover-free, 7-assist effort vs. a full-court pressing defense served as a key to the team's 1-0 conference start. Jackson entered the contest ranked No. 1in the Big East and No. 5 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. The senior leader's ability to remain close to those current rankings will help determine future Irish fortunes.
Playmaker of the Night – Ben Hansbrough: Not only of the night, but of the season to date, as the senior produced a near-triple-double in his first career Big East contest. A 2008 transfer from Mississippi State, Hansbrough produced 10 points, a career-best 10 assists, and 8 rebounds (7 defensive) in 39 minutes vs. the Friars. He's second in the conference (behind Jackson) in assist-to-turnover ratio and sixth (also directly behind Jackson) nationally.
Zone Buster – Tim Abromaitis: The Irish might have shot themselves out of the last zone defense they'll face this season (with the exception of Syracuse, of course) with yet another impressive effort from beyond the arc. In addition to Peoples' 5-5 marksmanship, Abromaitis continued to roll from long range, burying 5-8 3-point shots en route to 22 points in 30 minutes. Abromaitis entered the contest as the nation's ninth most accurate 3-point shooter, and at 6'8" the redshirt-junior is the tallest player among the country's top 50 qualifiers. He's connected on 40-77 3-point attempts over the first 14 contests (51.9 percent).
Doing the Dirty Work – Tyrone Nash: Aside from failing to draw a trip to the free throw line for just the second time this season, the Irish junior contributed the exact stat line expected of him in 26 minutes of floor time, scoring 8 points (4-7 from the field) and grabbing 8 rebounds (5 offensive). The Irish held a 48-41 effort on the boards, a key stat as the Friars hoisted 76 shots, including 26 from long-range. Nash's 6-point, 7-rebound first half helped stake the Irish to a 21-point lead at the break.
Holiday Scuffle – Luke Harangody: Harangody's 19 points and 13 boards helped produce the only statistic that matters, the proverbial "notch in the left column (of the W/L ledger) in Big East play" as Brey pointed out post-game. But better statistical days lie ahead for the Irish senior, whose 6-21 shooting night and 7-14 performance from the free throw line rank among the worst of his collegiate career. Harangody lived (and died) on the perimeter, settling for a variety of early shots behind or near the 3-point line and missing several mid-range jump shots. The sooner the All American rediscovers the low-block, the better off the Irish will be, especially with two road contests and a home game next Saturday vs. No. 6 West Virginia on the horizon.
Shower Optional – Carleton Scott: After a 21-minute effort in Notre Dame's last contest (Bucknell) in which he produced 5 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 3 assists, Irish redshirt-junior Carleton Scott played just three minutes (all in the first half) and after a nice feed to Peoples for a bucket underneath, was charged with two quick fouls and never again emerged from the depths of Brey's heavily populated bench. The Irish six-man rotation was in a groove last night but Scott ultimately needs more time to maintain his confidence and effectiveness in Big East play. Was there a reason not to sit the obviously struggling Harangody in favor of Scott over the course of five second-half minutes with a healthy double-digit lead?
Zero from the Trio – Mike Broghammer, Jack Cooley, Joey Brooks: It appeared as though none of the three freshmen were considered for court time during a game in which the Irish led by as many as 21 and by at least 9 for the final 30 minutes. Granted the Irish were rolling and Coach Brey has never been one to "upset the apple cart" (his words), but the group will be needed over the next 17 regular season games. Is it better for them to debut against UConn or West Virginia or Villanova? I think not.
Review of the PreviewOur pre-conference previewof last night's matchup placed the game among four "Must Wins" on the Big East schedule, adding:
- "Truth: If the Irish can't hit the ground running and handle the still-developing Friars, a team that lost four starters and five of its seven top players, they're in serious trouble over the next three months."
Mission accomplished. A loss last night would have been unconscionable against the young, unfocused, defense-optional attack of Keno Davis' still-developing Friars.
On TapNotre Dame embarks on a two-game road trip, traveling first to Connecticut to take on the Huskies in Hartford before heading to Tampa as guests of South Florida in the Bulls' home opener on January 5.
"None of these kids have played in Hartford, they've played in Storrs," Brey referenced of Saturday's game in one of Connecticut's two basketball home floors. "The last time we played in Hartford (2006), Rudy Gay dunked one and we were down 21 (points) and we came back to take the lead and lost in overtime…maybe we left one on the table that we can get back."
Currently ranked No. 10 in the AP Poll, UConn lost its Big East opener last night at Cincinnati, 71-69 on a pair of free throws with under a second remaining.
Notre Dame will need a bounce-back effort from Harangody and a similar effort from his supporting cast to upset the Huskies in Hartford. Tip time is set for Noon (Eastern) Saturday. The game will be televised by ESPNU.