Notre Dame Guns Down Friars

In a game that was billed as the "1st team to 100 wins", the clear winner was the Fighting Irish, who rode some hot three point shooting for a 103-84 road victory over Providence. Notre Dame out gunned and out rebounded the Friars in a critical Big East game, landing a severe blow to the Friars chances of earning an NCAA bid.

The book on beating Notre Dame has been to stop the Irish 3 point attack, and let Luke Harangody get his points without the rest of the team beating you. There was some speculation that Keno Davis would come out playing man to man in the first half against the fresh shooting legs of Notre Dame, but that was not the case.

Providence took their chances playing their trademark matchup zone defense for most of the first half and paid dearly for it, as the Irish knocked down an eye popping 11 first half three point field goals. While Davis tried some twists to shade and slow down Irish shooters, it was largely ineffective and the Friars were down by 15 with 3 minutes left in the first half. At that point, Providence switched to man to man defense, but they would end up down at halftime by 12 points.

When asked if he liked the match up with Providence because the Friars predominantly play zone defense, Irish Coach Mike Brey replied with a resounding yes:

"Yes I did like that, because the book on us in our league is to come after us, and even Providence eventually got out of their zone and were up on our shooters hard and physical. But I think when our perimeter guys see a zone, they take a little bit of a deep breath, because there is not somebody physically on them baseline to baseline."

Led by 28 points from Ryan Ayers and 25 from Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame needed little help from their All-American big man Luke Harangody. That was a good thing for Notre Dame too, as foul trouble limited Harangody for most of the first half. After the Friars switched to a man defense, Harangody managed to put together a productive second half after scoring only 1 point in the first twenty minutes. Harangody still finished the game with 18 points. "I thought Harangody handled a potentially frustrating crisis day", said Brey, "...and to come back in and do what he did out there (in the second half) was critical for us today."

Providence did get some second half stops with their man defense and full court pressing, cutting the Notre Dame lead from a 12 point half time deficit to 7 with 13:10 to go in the game, but that was as close as the Friars would get as they began to tire down the stretch. Providence continued to press in an attempt to quicken the pace, but the Irish did an excellent job breaking the pressure, and were content to trade baskets with the Friars to maintain their lead.

Besides the ineffectual zone defense that Notre Dame torched for 13 three pointers, the most troubling thing for the Friars may have been their poor rebounding. After out rebounding a physical and athletic Louisville team on the road, the Friars inexplicably got completely outworked on the glass 46-32. Keno Davis was questioned on that rebounding statistic:

"That is the thing that is the most frustrating to me. Maybe the number one effort stat is rebounding, and to get out rebounded by (Notre Dame) by 14 is a large number. I think we got so spread out because of their 3 point shooting, that we weren't in good position to rebound the ball. They came in there and hit the offensive boards because we were so spread out. We didn't have the rebounding edge tonight that we needed to win."

Providence did their share of scoring, and got a career high performance from Weyinmi Efejuku who went for 31 points. Efejuku's effort was also joined by a gritty 23 point performance from Sharaud Curry, who has been the Friars best player since the conference schedule started. No one else on the Friar roster managed to hit double figures, but offense really wasn't the source of the Friar woes on Saturday. It was clearly the defense and today, the rebounding as well.

While the loss to Notre Dame is a big blow to the Friars NCAA chances, Keno Davis doesn't feel that the three remaining games on the regular schedule are any more difficult to win than Notre Dame was, and he feels there are still opportunities for good wins this year to boost the Friar's post season resume.

"It's too easy to go through the schedule and say these are the games you're going to win and these are the games you should lose. It rarely works out that way. It just for some reason has been that way for us this year. We've still got games left, and they are important for us. If we can improve some things defensively and improve with our rebounding, we've got a chance to win. I would expect with Senior Night coming up, these guys are going to want to finish up strong, and they'll give everything they've got. ...There's also not much difference between trying to beat Notre Dame or Villanova, so there is still a lot to play for."

The Friars are now 16-11 and 8-7 in the conference and face loaded #4 Pittsburgh team on Tuesday night. In one aspect similar to Notre Dame, Pittsburgh is another team that has generally executed very well against zone defenses with their spacing, ball movement, and ability to knock down mid- range jump shots. Of course the Panthers defend too. Providence will need to dramatically improve their rebounding and defensive effort in order to compete with the likes of Dejuan Blair, Sam Young, and Levance Fields of Pittsburgh.

The Friars also may want to consider mixing up their defensive looks a little earlier in this one if the Panthers come out as hot as Notre Dame did. PC will need to get more production from Marshon Brooks, Jon Kale and Jeff Xavier on Tuesday, who all had sub par games against Notre Dame . Xavier's three point shooting percentage has dropped to 29% from 36% last season.

A win over #4 Pittsburgh is a tall order, but then again that is the sort of position the Friars have put themselves in after a very disappointing loss to Notre Dame.

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