For a full recap of the contest, click here.
Player of the Game – Tory Jackson: Has a point guard ever finished a contest 0-7 from the field and earned player of the game honors? Sitting court-side it was obvious that one Notre Dame player was keeping the game competitive…on both ends of the floor, and that was Tory Jackson. The senior produced a career-best 15 assists (just 3 turnovers) on a series of determined, twisting drives that resulted in kick-out passes to Tim Abromaitis and daring wrap-around-defender interior looks to Abromaitis and Harangody for layups.
While you can certainly quibble with the choice of Jackson as ND MVP last night, just don't do so in front of Orange head coach Jim Boeheim: "Jackson did something that nobody's ever done against this group, getting into the lane and making those passes he made...to be honest without that they would have had a tough night. He did a tremendous job.
"He got into (situations) where there was almost no room and got those passes off. That's not an easy play to make and he probably got Luke 8-10 baskets."
Jackson, whose 15 dimes rank as the third-highest single-game total in program history, was far from perfect, finishing with just two points (on free throws). Though he hit 6 of 8 field goal attempts Saturday vs. Cincinnati, he's otherwise struggled, converting just 6 of 33 shots in previous games vs. Connecticut, South Florida, West Virginia, and last night). Notre Dame won't make the NCAA Tournament if he can't find a way to contribute 8-10 points on a 7-8 shots per game.
As Reliable as the Tides – Luke Harangody: The shame of ND's regression over the last season-plus is that fans are beginning to take the production and play of the All American forward for granted (and I repeated that offense with my choice of game MVP!) Harangody finished 12-25 from the field for a game-high 29 points and a game-high 14 rebounds (5 offensive, more than any Syracuse player) and committed just two turnovers (though one was a late game, ill-advised ball handling error in transition…give it to a guard, man…).
He battled the four-man front-line rotation of the Orange for 40 minutes, keeping the Irish within striking distance with under three minutes remaining before the fateful three offensive rebound, five-point possession by Syracuse ended Notre Dame's hopes for an upset.
What other player in the country could produce those numbers and be singled out on his team's fan message board for needing to play better? Yes, Harangody made a crucial mental error last night. So too did Abromaitis (below). And yes, I feel he hunts his shot from beyond the arc too freely these days...but imagine the game score (almost every night) without him.
Glass Half Empty – Tim Abromaitis: The redshirt-junior put forth his best effort of the season (26 points vs. Syracuse is exponentially more impressive than 31 vs. Central Florida in December) against the best team he'll play this season. 10-17 from the field; 5-11 from beyond the arc, three assists and a block (at the rim, I might add) in 38 minutes. Abromaitis found openings other Irish players couldn't see. He played aggressively, attacking the basket when Syracuse's long-armed zone negated looks from the outside, and with the exception of breaking John Wooden's always relevant, "Be Quick but Don't Hurry" rule in one key transition opportunity, he played smart basketball.
Abro had improved greatly as a rebounder over the last few games but looked overmatched last night in the paint. ND needs more than two boards from its small forward (then again, it needs more than two boards from its power forward, too, but we'll cross that bridge later in the column).
But as Mike Brey noted post-game: "Sometimes, Tim Abromaitis (for example) can put a body on some (Syracuse) NBA bodies…and sometimes it just doesn't matter."
The first-year player's two-rebound night has nothing to do with the "Glass Half Empty" label I applied above. Rather, I wonder: was none of this possible last season when he was red-shirted in favor of 35 combined minutes per game by the departed frontcourt duo of Hillesland and Zeller (9 points and 6 boards per game…together)?
The Irish and Abromaitis will be better over the next two seasons because of his 2008-09 redshirt…but they likely gave away an NCAA Tournament appearance in the process.
Rebirth – Carleton Scott: Eight days ago today, Carleton Scott was national (well, local) news due to a mutual parting between he and the basketball program. Last night he put forth the best effort of his career, grabbing 9 rebounds (6 offensive) in 19 minutes. Scott's ability to build off this game is essential if the Irish are to avoid the NIT in March.
Scott, completely tuned in and fired up throughout the contest (and even when coming off the court), still has concentration issues. He was burned by a simple "re-post" move from Orange big man Rick Jackson on an out-of-bounds play for a bucket (Harangody allowed the same play later in the contest). But Notre Dame's "other" redshirt-junior appears to be on the road to improvement. I hadn't believed that until today.
"I'm very pleased with him," Brey stated. "I think we needed to step back from the fire a little bit…both of us improve our communication. I'm very pleased with what he's given us.
"I think he's going to make some more shots out there as he gets into a rhythm of playing…he's thrown himself into it, starting with Cincinnati, and he's been good…I think we're going to see some real improvement from him."
(For those of you that didn't see the Cincinnati game, Scott recorded the best rebound of the season: an in-traffic, one-handed above the rim snare in which he reached behind his head to snap the ball away from Bearcats below).
Home Court Mulligan– Ben Hansbrough: It was a tough night defensively for the prideful senior, as his assigned man, shooter Andy Rautins knocked down at least four long-range jump shots directly in Hansbrough's grill (and both Wes Johnson and Scoop Jardine scored on the normally solid defender following Rautins' explosion). He struggled to penetrate more so than in any game this season and hit just 2 of 7 shots from beyond the arc (without attempting a two-point shot).
Two previous Big East home tilts produced 16 points, 20 assists, and just two turnovers, so better days lie ahead. Hansbrough's a player ND fans can embrace and one on which they can rely over the bulk of the next two months, but ND can't beat top teams with two assists and two turnovers from its second guard.
Stunted – Tyrone Nash: The redshirt-junior power forward entered Saturday's contest at Cincinnati averaging more than 10 points and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes of Big East action. Since Saturday's tip-off, Nash has attempted four shots, hit one, scored three points and grabbed two total rebounds while committing 9 fouls in 32 combined minutes of court time.
He was unlikely to contribute much offensively vs. Syracuse's 2-3 zone…then again, Harangody and Abromaitis worked free for buckets on feeds from Jackson. Nash needs to regain his confidence Saturday vs. overmatched DePaul and carry that over into a stretch in which Notre Dame will be favored in five of its next seven contests.
Accountability – Jonathan Peoples: The senior tri-captain scored a career-high 23 points and tied a career-best with 6 rebounds in Notre Dame's conference-opening win on December 30 vs. Providence. Since that time, Peoples has played 67 minutes (five games); hit 1 of 12 shots; made 1 of 4 free throws; and produced as many turnovers (5) as assists.
Which brings us to…
Bring in the Freshman – Joey Brooks: Did not play.
DNP – Freshmen Mike Broghammer and Jack Cooley: Understandable in this contest, honestly, though I'm always in favor of hard fouls and two minutes of hustle by your ninth and tenth players...especially at home.
Review of the PreviewOur pre-conference preview of last night's contest placed the game in a four-game grouping titled, Flying High: "Wins vs. any of these four 2010 powers would be a cause for celebration and place the Irish back on the right side of the NCAA bubble."
ND is 1-1 in this category (with a win over West Virginia) to date. Though the momentum from that win and 3-1 start has been stunted, expect the Irish to emerge from January at 5-4 and as favorites in their next four contests.
On TapThe Irish revisit a former heated rivalry when DePaul makes the 100-mile trek to South Bend on Saturday. The Blue Demons, in the midst of a 22-game Big East losing streak, replaced head coach Jerry Wainwright less than two weeks ago (with assistant Tracey Webster serving as the interim head man) and last week, lost top player Mac Koshwal to his second foot injury of the season.
A preview of the DePaul contest will be published Saturday morning.