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January 5, 2009

Irish bounce back, beat Hoyas

NOTRE DAME, Ind.-Rumors of Notre Dame's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

After falling Saturday to St. John's-a perennial Big East doormat-the No. 13-ranked Fighting Irish (11-3, 2-1) used the hot hand of Luke Harangody and a more characteristic Notre Dame performance from the free-throw line en route to a 73-67 victory over No. 9 Georgetown.

The victory extended Notre Dame's home winning streak to 44 games-the longest in the nation after Brigham Young's 53-game home skein was ended by Wake Forest Saturday.

"It was a bounce-back win," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "Whoever recovers best from losses in this league will get the NCAA tournament bids and be in position to get a bye in New York City."

It's going to be a rocky road before post-season play begins, and the Irish scaled the ledge to survive a rough three-games-in-six-days stretch by winning two out of three, including a victory over Georgetown (10-3, 1-2), which won at Connecticut one week earlier.

Despite being saddled by foul trouble most of the second half, All-American junior Luke Harangody scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the way while the Irish made 15-of-16 free throws, including all nine by Harangody.

"I don't know what it is, but we play a lot better when there is adversity," said Harangody, who picked up his third foul with 17:33 remaining and his fourth with 15:17 on the clock.

"We need that sense of urgency every game, and that's what Coach Brey is trying to instill in us."

After getting out-scrapped, out-hustled, and out-rebounded by St. John's, the Irish were not going to be out-done by the Hoyas, who were facing there own adversity after falling by 16 at home to Pittsburgh Saturday.

Statistically, Georgetown won the battle of the boards, 37-34. But the Irish got to loose balls in the lane, battled with the Hoyas for every carom, and basically played much tougher and with a much greater sense of urgency than they did against the Red Storm.

"Rebounding numbers can be misleading," Brey said. "But it wasn't an advantage (for Georgetown). They didn't beat us up in there. We 'gang' rebounded."

Kyle McAlarney, who finished with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting from three-point range, tied a career high with five rebounds, equaling backcourt mate Tory Jackson's total.

"We did a good job of really crowding the paint and team rebounding," said McAlarney, who took five stitches above his left eye after taking a blow in the final frantic minutes.

"It's really a team thing, a focus kind of thing. We knew we wouldn't come out of here with a win without doing that."

Notre Dame took a 39-28 lead into the locker room at halftime behind the stellar play of Harangody. Neither team led by more than four points throughout the first 16 minutes before the Irish went on a 9-0 run with Harangody doing all the damage. Harangody scored the last 13 points of the first half for the Irish over a 3:59 span.

Georgetown used a 7-0 run to start the second half to cut Notre Dame's halftime lead to four. Four times after that, the Hoyas pulled to within five.

After picking up his fourth foul, Harangody sat down for three-and-a-half minutes before playing the final 11:45.

"My feeling is sometimes coaches sit guys with foul trouble too much," Brey said. "He's become an experienced, smart basketball player. It shows in how he's passing the ball. His basketball IQ has risen.

"He's always had a great motor and heart. But he's learned to turn it off and on and pick his spots. That helps him play with foul trouble."

During Harangody's absence, Ryan Ayers scored five of his eight points while Luke Zeller gave the Irish 25 strong minutes.

"Luke Zeller was great tonight," Brey said. "He gave us a little bit of the (Rob) Kurz-like presence that I haven't seen this year and that we have missed. I really want to build on that."

The Irish did their best to contain 6-foot-11 freshman Greg Monroe, who finished with a team-high 21 points and 10 rebounds. Monroe and guard Chris Wright (13 points) led the late Hoyas surge that saw them cut Notre Dame's advantage to 71-67. But two free throws by McAlarney sealed the victory.

Jackson, a 51.1 percent free-throw shooter coming into the game, made all four of his attempts from the charity stripe.

"I hope we can keep doing that," said Brey, whose team was an uncharacteristic 65.2 percent from the line through the first 13 games.

"It's great to see Tory Jackson making big ones at key times. In the second half, when we need them, he's got to be shooting over 70 or 75 percent in his career."

Georgetown, a 75.1 percent free-throw shooting team, made just 13-of-22, including 3-of-7 by Monroe. The Hoyas also missed 14-of-18 three-point attempts.

"We're going to have nights (when shots don't fall) in this league and we have to be better at everything else," said Hoyas head coach John Thompson III, who lost for just the 39th time in 149 games at Georgetown.

"From foul shots on down, the ball just didn't go in the basket tonight. So we have to get stops and we have to get rebounds and we have to make things more difficult for them."

The Irish rarely seem to have difficulty at the Joyce Center.

"We're very confident in this building. (The players) really believe in this building," Brey said. "This building has been a great advantage for us. It's been therapy for us many times. When we've lost on the road, we come on home and get well."



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