The final tally for the home team was 25 assists on 29 field goals with more than half of those conversions courtesy of Notre Dame senior forward Luke Harangody, whose 15-25 shooting performance paved the way for a season-high 37 points. More importantly, the Irish bounced back from a two-game skid that included a sobering loss at previously 0-8 Rutgers, with a rematch victory over Cincinnati, a team that defeated the Irish 60-58 in mid-January.
The key to the win, however, was neither Notre Dame's unselfish play nor Harangody's heroics, but renewed team pride on defensive glass as the Irish won the battle of the boards Thursday, 41-32 (including a 14-6 edge on the offensive end). According to senior point guard Tory Jackson, that was the squad's point of emphasis all week and will remain a focal point for the final eight contests.
"They killed us (rebounding) last time," Jackson stated of the Bearcats' obscene 48-28 edge in their two-point January win over the Irish. "They out-‘manned' us…they did whatever they wanted to do.
"But we stepped up today and we were men. We can't back down and we have to be men from here on out."
The Irish cured multiple lingering ills from the aforementioned Queen City debacle, hitting 18 of 24 free throws (after missing 10 of 19 in the first meeting) in addition to owning an edge on the glass and dishing out 25 assists (vs. 10 in the first contest).
The rematch's only repeat statistical performance was provided by the woeful shooting of the Bearcats, who again managed to miss three out of every four 3-point shots (7 of 28 last night) en route to a 38 percent effort from the floor (Cincy shot 32 percent in their January win).
Mired in a 6 for 31 shooting slump in Big East home games (including an 0-6 offering last night), Jackson again played the role of distributor with 8 assists vs. 3 turnovers in 38 minutes.
Jackson's toughness and will was on display in a two-minute span late in the first half in which he wrestled a rebound away from 260-pound Cincinnati sophomore Yancey Gates; tied up Gates with a low-block clamp-down resulting in a jump ball, and took a charge in close vs. the massive center to give the Irish the half's last possession, one in which the Irish converted for a layup and 13-point edge at the break.
The Irish rarely stumbled in the second stanza, leading by no fewer than nine and generally holding a secure 12 to 14-point advantage for the final 12 minutes.
Junior forward Tim Abromaitis again supported Harangody, hitting for 22 points (6 of 10 from the floor including 3-4 from long range) while knocking down each of his seven free throw attempts en route to 22 points prior to fouling out after 30 minutes of action.
"I think the chemistry we have is key. Guys know where everyone is on the court," Abromaitis offered of the team's ability to move the ball on offense, especially in South Bend. "Another thing we worked on this week was passing out of the post, and a couple times when they clamped down on ‘Gody he was either able to make a move out of it or find and open (shooter) on the perimeter. We just know each other well and are able to move the ball."
Abromaitis added four assists and no turnovers to the team's final 25-9 assist-to-turnover tally.
Senior guard Ben Hansbrough chipped in 9 assists (and just 2 turnovers) to go with 12 points and 8 rebounds in a team-high 39 minutes.
"We're not satisfied. We beat Cincinnati, we're 5-5, but we still have work to do.
"We have some guys who really know how to play (offensively). You can say we (Jackson and Hansbrough) are making plays but guys are just cutting to the bucket and making shots. Our teammates make our assists really easy."
Larry Davis led Cincinnati with 12 points off the bench while Deonta Vaughn added 11 for the errant Bearcats. Gates, who had his way with the Irish interior in two previous meetings dating back to last February, finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 turnovers.
Monster in the MiddleHarangody's 37-point, 14-rebound evening provided a stark contrast to his 5 of 20 shooting effort in the teams' first meeting. The contest marked the senior's 11th double-double of the season and 62nd of his college career.
It was Harangody's 63rd game scoring in excess of 20 points which tied him for second on the program's career list with Basketball Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley (who accomplished the feat in three seasons from 1973-76) and his 14th 30-plus point effort (Harangody trails Troy Murphy, another three-year star who accumulated 17 such outings, for third on the career list).
"We talked a lot about feeding Luke around the basket, getting low-post touches for him," observed Irish head coach Mike Brey of his team's preparations for the Bearcats. "I think it really helped him. It also puts him in the frame of mind of rebounding more. It gets him in a mode that I refer to as ‘Blue-Collar ‘Gody' and it opens up some (other) guys, too.
"I think he really set the tone being blue-collar, in-the-post and on-the-backboard."
Harangody likewise continued his journey up the Big East's career scoring and rebounding lists. His 37 points moved him past former Boston College standout guard Dana Barros (1985-1989); Villanova's lanky scorer Kerry Kittles (1992-96) and an all-time collegiate great, former St. John's dead-eye Chris Mullin (1981-85) into third place on the conference's scoring list.
Harangody needs 114 points in eight-plus remaining conference games to pass Syracuse swingman Lawrence Moten for the league's top spot (currently 1,405 points).
In keeping with his game-night custom, Harangody also moved past former Providence center Michael Smith (1991-95) into second place on the conference's career rebounds list. The Schererville senior needs 63 rebounds to pass ex-Syracuse star and No. 1 NBA Draft pick Derrick Coleman (1986-91) as the lead dog in Big East rebounding history.
With 2,393 points in 122 games, Harangody is 167 points shy of breaking the program's career scoring record held by the legendary Austin Carr (Carr played prior to freshman eligibility and appeared in 74 games from 1968-71). Harangody creeped closer to Tom Hawkins (1956-59) long-standing Irish mark of 1,318 total rebounds, and now needs 142 boards to surpass Hawkins, who averaged 16.7 boards per game over a three-year span.
Notre Dame's next contest is Sunday in South Bend vs. the surprising South Florida Bulls. The former league doormat has won four straight, including two vs. ranked opponents Pittsburgh, and most recently, Wednesday night at Georgetown. Tip-off time is set for Noon (ET) at the Purcell Pavilion.