NEW YORK – Notre Dame held Seton Hall to 53 fewer points than they scored just 24 hours previous and dealt a major blow to the Pirates' NCAA Tournament hopes with a 68-56 victory Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Fans of the Irish basketball program continue to marvel at the squad’s recently revamped approach, one that focuses on extending offensive possessions and shows a dedication to team defense and rebounding for 40 minutes.
“Given how they played last night – scoring 55 points at the half and 109 for the game – and given how they beat us in Newark when they scored 55 in a half; (he felt) that if we could impose our style of play, we could beat them,” explained Irish head coach Mike Brey postgame.
“Our field goal percentage defense was great (34.5%), we really limited their possessions. It was our tempo.”
Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez felt last night’s contest took the wind out of the Pirates’ collective sail.
“Not an excuse, but I thought this was the most tired I’ve seen this team the entire year,” offered Pirates head coach Bobby Gonzalez. “It shows how important the Bye is and it shows how important the regular season is."
Seton Hall looked to be the more focused team early, using its diamond full court pressure to stun the Irish with an 11-0 run, including seven consecutive points in a 20-second span, to take an 11-2 lead before five minutes had elapsed in the contest.
The Irish, timid and tight early, gained their composure and buckled down defensively, limiting the Pirates to one field goal over and 8:11 span, turning a 15-8 deficit into a 24-17 advantage with 3:53 remaining in the opening half.
It was the second consecutive game in which the Irish defense neutralized its opponent over an extended period in the first half. (Notre Dame held Marquette scoreless for more than seven minutes in an overtime win last Saturday.)
“We’ve been really good (defensively),” Brey noted. “Guarding (Jeremy) Hazell…Jonathan Peoples gave us great minutes tonight; he really defended Hazell and he gave us another ball handler vs. a team that came after us.
“But there was a really good team awareness of the three-point line – especially (defending) Hazell.”
Hazell, who erupted for 35 points in the team’s first meeting on February 11, scored just 15 on 5-16 shooting Wednesday.
Seton Hall hit just 8 of 28 field goal attempts in the opening stanza, a performance that included a 1-11 streak as the Irish took control of the contest. The Pirates hit just two of 16 attempts from beyond the arc in defeat.
Notre Dame received an immediate boost off its bench from three-time Big East All-Star Luke Harangody, who checked in at the 16:45 mark after Carleton Scott committed a pair of quick fouls. The senior forward scored 15 of Notre Dame’s 28 first-half points on a variety of strong low-post finishes and transition run-outs.
“The Microwave was ready to go tonight,” Brey joked with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the nickname bestowed upon former Detroit Pistons super sub Vinnie Johnson. “It’s not anything anybody in this room hasn’t seen. We knew we were going to need that as he was coming back.
“We had three good practices (between Marquette Saturday and tonight) and I think he’s back in his rhythm at a very key time.”
Harangody led all scorers with 20 points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Quiet statistically in the first half with just one point and four missed field goal attempts, Notre Dame point guard Tory Jackson led the Irish with 13 second half points. More important, Jackson kept the sinking Irish ship afloat when the rest of the team buckled under the intense Pirates pressure over the game’s first 10 minutes, chipping in with five assists and just one turnover in the first 20 minutes.
“We didn’t want them to make us play fast,” Jackson stated of the team’s adjustment to Seton Hall’s pressure D. “We have to control the tempo. Even though they were running and jumping…slapping; we still had to be calm and hit the open guy.
“After they made that initial run we slowed it down and hit the open guy, just broke their press easily and got easy buckets.”
The Irish out-rebounded the Pirates 40 to 30
With the victory, Notre Dame will move on to face No. 2 seed Pittsburgh Thursday night at 7 pm (ET).
Note: IrishEyes will have more on the victory over the Pirates on Thursday morning.