Sunday, February 22, 2009

Notre Dame Lights Up PC For 103-84 Victory.

Weyinmi Efejuku scored 31 points and Sharaud Curry chipped in with 23 points as the two Friar guards combined to shoot 18 of 29 from the field, but once again PC was done in by their horrific defense, via ProJo Sports:

If there is a definition for lack of respect in college basketball, one was hatched in the last few days in South Bend, Ind. In preparation for Saturday’s game against defensively challenged Providence College, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey gave his players a goal to shoot for. The Irish didn’t circle 80 or even 90points on their scouting report. How about 95? "There was no doubt," guard Jonathan Peoples said about his team’s chances of eclipsing that mark. "When we’re running-and-gunning and taking open shots, we’re capable of putting a lot of points on the board."

That Notre Dame was able to breeze past its lofty goal and leave a sold-out Dunkin’ Donuts Center with a 103-84 win was a gratifying feeling for the visitors and a crippling blow for the Friars. Notre Dame now has won three of four games since suffering a seven-game losing streak and is still breathing in the Big East race with a 15-11 overall mark and 6-8 league record. "It was a very big win for us," Brey said. "I’m proud of our group. This group has taken a lot of punches and kept on fighting."

The Friars, however, haven’t found any defense to muster much of a punch back with their postseason hopes on the line. PC lost for the fifth time in seven games and now stands at 16-11, 8-7 in the Big East. A visit from fourth-ranked Pittsburgh is up next on Tuesday.

It was easy to see why Brey and the Irish looked forward to come to town. They had already seen six Big East teams score 91 or more points against PC and couldn’t wait to test their skills against the Friars’ scrambling, but porous, zone defense. "As a shooter, when you see a zone, your eyes light up," said Kyle McAlarney, a senior guard who had four of Notre Dame’s 13 threes and finished with 25 points. "Having guys hanging on you (in man-to-man) the whole time isn’t fun. It’s nice to kind of freelance a little bit."

McAlarney and Ryan Ayers (seven threes, 28 points) came out firing as Notre Dame hit five of its first seven 3-pointers to race to an 18-10 lead. PC recovered a bit but even with star big man Luke Harangody on the bench with two fouls, the Irish kept rolling. Ayers and McAlarney combined for 10 of ND’s 11 first-half threes as the visitors built a 46-29 lead and led, 49-37, at the half. "I went into the locker room at halftime looking at the scoreboard only down 12 and it didn’t feel that close. It felt like they had dominated the game in a lot of different ways," said PC coach Keno Davis.

With few options available, Davis decided to play more man-to-man defense in the second half. Asked about his defensive planning after the game, Davis insisted that his zone gives the Friars the best chance to combat some of the nation’s elite teams PC faces in the Big East. "We did vary our defense in the first half where we tried to get out on players on the perimeter and not leave them," said Davis. "It might not have looked like that, at times, but we did change our defense in the first half without much success. "In the second half we just felt that with their comfort level in knocking down shots that we had to take away the 3-point shots completely, or try to. We did that but it exposed other parts of our defensive skill," he said.

The defensive switch helped and was further emphasized when Harangody picked up his third and fourth fouls by the 13:30 mark. That gave the Friars a spark with Sharaud Curry (23 points) and Weyinmi Efejuku (career-best 31, 26 in the second half) leading a charge that sliced the lead down to just 61-54 with 12:18 to play.

But that’s when Notre Dame began carving up PC’s man-to-man as well. Peoples, who went on to score a career-best 14 points and dish for nine assists, drained a huge 3-pointer and then turned a Randall Hanke turnover into a driving layup and a three-point play. The quick six points pushed the lead back to 13 (67-54) and the Friars could not get within nine points the rest of the way.

Harangody scored just one free throw in the first half but delivered 17 points in the second half and helped the Irish kill the Friars off the glass, 46-32. "You see why they were picked by a lot of people as one of the top-10 teams in the country," said Davis. "They have a lot of weapons. A lot of guys who can shoot the basketball, as well as the conference player of the year from last year who is an incredible matchup for teams down in the post."

Notre Dame may be surging as its tries to reclaim what looked like a lost season, but it also just lost by 11 at West Virginia. The Mountaineers happen to be one of the stingiest defensive teams in the Big East, a trait that right now is not in Providence’s arsenal.
I have been saying for a few weeks now that this Notre Dame game was one that the Friars could win, but that was before it became obvious that the Friars can't defend and are especially horrible at defending the three. Notre Dame got so many open looks from three in this game that it wasn't even funny. They ended up knocking down 13 threes on their way to lighting up the Friars for 103 points. PC's at large hopes now hinge on what may be the impossible: winning out against Pitt, Rutgers, and Villanova. The Friars MIGHT be able to travel to Villanova and catch them on a bad shooting night, but I doubt they will be able to beat Pitt. The Rutgers game could be dangerous too, since the Friars historically do not play well at Rutgers. Right now it looks like PC will finish 9-9 in the Big East, with a very small chance of finishing 10-8. 11-7 at this point would be miraculous and almost certain to not happen. The Friars will have to do some damage in the Big East tournament if they want to get any at-large consideration. There actually is a possibility they could win 2 games in the Big East tournament with the way the bracket sets up depending on their seed. I will probably get into that once we know how everything shakes out.

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