Hard-Luck Bulls Nipped by Irish 74-73

Everything pointed toward a fantastic, heart-pounding finish, but instead, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody simply capped off another All-American evening by sinking a no-doubt free throw with less than two seconds remaining. The anti-climactic moment - courtesy of an official's whistle - ended USF's splendid rally from a double-digit second half deficit and gave the Irish a 74-73 win.

Everything pointed toward a fantastic, heart-pounding finish, but instead, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody simply capped off another All-American evening by sinking a no-doubt free throw with less than two seconds remaining. The anti-climactic moment - courtesy of an official's whistle - ended USF's splendid rally from a double-digit second half deficit and gave the Irish a 74-73 win.

To that point, the Sun Dome crowd of 5,107 had watched the Bulls battle back from a 13-point deficit over the final eight minutes. USF got even at 69-69 with 2:33 left, on a transition dunk by Dominique Jones and took its only lead of the half 40 seconds later on a slam by freshman Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.

But with just 16 seconds to play, Notre Dame worked the ball in to Harangody, who backed his way toward the basket and was clipped on the arm by a double-teaming Mike Mercer. All that was left was for Harangody to cap off a 36-point night with his sixth consecutive made free throw.

A last-ditch attempt that had little chance for success ended in a turnover on the inbounds pass by Bulls point guard Chris Howard, and USF had come up short in Big East play -- again.

"It's too bad somebody had to lose that one. That's Big East basketball. It comes down to those possessions. I'm just really proud of our guys that they battled and kept digging into that lead. I really thought we'd get that big stop. Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way," USF head coach Stan Heath said. "I didn't see the call - whether it was a foul or not. I just hated that it has to be settled that way. Our guys gave their hearts out there and toward the end they were just running on fumes."

Jones, who snuck out a big yawn at mid court after his pre-game introduction, certainly didn't sleepwalk his way through this game. After being limited by foul trouble and scoring just five points at Louisville last Saturday, Jones played all 40 minutes and scored 26. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey admitted that he had no answer for USF's talented junior.

"We had Tory (Jackson) on Jones, which I thought was our best matchup. We couldn't do much with Jones," Brey said. I'm very impressed with (USF). They weren't at full strength and we're going to see them at full strength later. They're hard to guard at times and we had a tough time guarding them."

But as impressive as Jones was, Harangody proved why he's the Big East's best performer. He carried the Irish through the first half with 17 of the team's 33 points, and scored 12 consecutive points during a three-minute stretch as Notre Dame built a five-point lead to 13 at 57-44 with 12:02 to play.

Despite Harangody's effort, however, Fitzpatrick received high marks for his individual effort against one of college basketball's most dangerous offensive threats.

"His last two Big East games have been his best games of the year. He's really making a lot of progress," Heath said of his freshman forward. "We went into the game thinking he might be our best matchup (against Harangody). I thought he was. As crazy as it sounds with us giving up 36 points to Harangody, I thought he battled him. He blocked a shot and worked boxing him out. When he went out of the game with a couple fouls, Harangody got in more of a rhythm."

For Jones, a big statistical night meant little in the end.

"I feel like everybody follows me. If I play a bad game, the chances of us winning are very low. So I feel like I've got to make sure I'm on top of my game to perform at a high level every night so my teammates can follow me to perform, as well," Jones said.

"I didn't think (the officials) would let the game end like that, but they said we fouled them and just gave it to them. I think that's a bad way to end it, but it is what it is. We just got to move on. Harangody made some tough plays. He had a freshman guarding him and Toarlyn played him hard, but Harangody made some tough plays and that made the difference."


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